Reflections on Groundhog Day

A day in honor of rodents offers spiritual lessons

February is a month of special days. It’s Black History Month. It’s midwinter break month to get away for some skiing or sunshine. The midpoint of this 28-day month is Valentine’s Day followed by Presidents Day. And, of course, it all kicks off with Groundhog Day.

I’ve never been to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2nd, but I’m intrigued by the annual tradition that has put that small town on the map. The yearly pursuit of Punxsutawney Phil searching for his shadow has earned that cave-dwelling rodent celebrity status.

Thirty years ago Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, earned a place in popular culture. Ever since its release, just the mention of Groundhog Day calls to mind the plight of being trapped in a 24-hour time loop.

Although the plot of that 1993 film is far-fetched, for those who have jobs that offer little variety or change of pace, life can seem like a perpetual Groundhog Day. But it’s not just those who deal with repetitive job functions who feel their life journey is lived in cruise-control.

If we are honest with ourselves, our day-in-and-day-out routines and rituals can render our daily lives devoid of a sense of adventure and creativity. While many find comfort in facing the familiar, most dream of doing something different.

This Groundhog Day, instead of being preoccupied with looking for shadows, why not focus on looking in the mirror? What do you like? What do you wish you could change? What will it take to bring about the change you desire? Chances are it will require rebooting one’s routine.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I’ve never forgotten it. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It’s true! And yet we are guilty of acting insane a lot of the time. We fall into mindless behavior patterns without thinking about the consequences for others or to ourselves.

But looking into the mirror instead of looking for shadows is only the first step. Once you take a good hard look at what you see, you will need to decide what to do with what seems out of place. It will require acting on what you’ve discovered.

There’s a memorable verse in the New Testament that underscores the importance of following through on what we understand needs to change. The Epistle of James chides the first-century faithful to not simply give mental assent to something they claim to believe, but to actually put feet to their faith.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24)

A month into this new year, some resolutions have already been coded and carried to the morgue. But it’s not too late to establish some new action steps to make the most out of 2023.

We still have time to breathe new life into our diets, revisit our fitness routine, revive our spiritual disciplines, alter our schedule with family, renew our volunteer commitments and establish sacred times to take care of ourselves.

Speaking of shadows, there is one shadow I would suggest looking for and attempting to follow. As a person of the cloth, throughout my life I’ve attempted to take my cues from a first century rabbi who began his career as a carpenter.

Jesus of Nazareth offers me a great example of one who cared for others and himself while refusing to be defined by inflexible routines. Maybe following his shadow would be a worthy pursuit for you as well. Not just on Groundhog Day, but every day.

How Sweet the Sound!

This month marks the 250th anniversary of Amazing Grace

How sweet the sound!
Amazing Grace
played on a piper’s bag.
The haunting drone enveloped me with peace.
A tune I love reminded me
that lost souls can be found
and those we lose to death find faith’s release.

John Newton knew this truth first hand.
By grace his life was saved.
A reprobate became a parish priest.
Through many dangers toils and snares,
‘twas grace that helped him see
that all are objects of God’s love…
the greatest to the least.

This month marks the 250th anniversary of the most-loved hymn of all time. I was grateful for Neil Hubbard’s rendition of Amazing Grace at a memorial service I recently conducted. Truly amazing!

A Jack of All Trades

Pastor Jack Hayford died on January 8, 2023 at the age of eighty-eight

Jack Hayford was a preacher.
Just to hear him speak you’d think
you were standing in the presence of a king.
And when Jack would lead the hymns he wrote
we’d stand with upraised hands
and worship Christ the Savior as we’d sing.

Jack Hayford was an author.
Truths he’d gleaned within The Book
were planted first then watered on each page.
Jack helped us see our kinship
as the family of God
regardless of our gender or our age.

Jack Hayford was the leader
of the Foursquare Church at-large.
To the church of Aimee Semple he brought cred.
Jack helped show that Pentecostals
weren’t just feelings focused folk.
He was thoughtful in the things he wrote and read.

And Jack Hayford gave us Majesty.
I love that worship song.
In his lyrics he sees Christ upon the throne.
As His subjects we give honor
as we pay Him homage due
for the glories of His grace He has made known.  

Peace to his memory!

May Your Prophets Find the Courage

New hymn lyrics for Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance

May Your prophets find the courage
to heed Your call
as they strive to climb a mountain
burdened for all.
Help them dream a King-size vision
of a land without division
focused on a holy mission
where tyrants fall.

May Your prophets speak out boldly
hearing Your voice.
Help them stand up for those victims
denied a choice.
Much like Moses and like Martin,
use Your prophets as they pardon
those enslaved and thus disheartened
so they’ll rejoice.

May Your prophets stand on prophets’
shoulders of old,
high above reproach or scandal
grasping for gold.
Help them to make plain Your passion
even when it seems old-fashioned
for the poor who have no stanchion
out in the cold.

*This hymn text can be sung to the tune Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night)

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the eve of Epiphany there are a multitude of sounds to consider

On this twelfth day of Christmas,
I’m listening for the percussive rhythm
of twelve drummers drumming.
But I don’t hear it.

I don’t even hear the familiar melody
of that traditional song
that calls attention to (among other things)
five golden rings,
three French hens
and a partridge in a pear tree.

Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree.
It’s entirely possible.
The recent “blizzard of the century”
that blanketed upstate New York
in an unprecedented snowfall
unleashed the sounds of sirens
from emergency vehicles
helping the despairing
and searching for the missing.

Rather than twelve drummers,
what’s drumming in my head
are the snares of holiday travel
that kept families separated
from one another this season.

I’m aware of the sighs and tears
that punctate the pain and grief
of those facing this new year
without a loved one
who left through the doorway of death
in recent days.

I’m hearing the cacophony
of chaotic concerns
related to the recent upticks
in COVID variants.

I’m listening to the constant
(and as-yet unanswered)
prayers for peace in Ukraine
while those in Ukraine
hear the scream of rockets overhead
and the scream of victims on the ground.

My ears embrace the sounds of suffering
from terminally-ill kids in cancer wards
in children’s hospitals
as well as the muffled weeping
of countless women who regret their decision
to abort their unborn baby.

I can’t help but hearing the sounds
of praying parents and grandparents
calling out to God on behalf of those they love
who are making self-destructive choices
or suffering the consequences of mindless decisions
made in haste.

And on this day before Epiphany,
when we will
at long last
celebrate the magi’s arrival
at their longed-for destination,
I also hear an infant’s cry.

It is a cry that echoes down the hallway
of two millennia.
It is the cry of empathy and understanding.
God-with-us is with us, indeed.