Groundhogs, Candles and Faith
I’m writing this Caller article a bit later than usual - I just returned from the 3-day Bishop’s Colloquy in Santa Barbara. Between that, the Annual Meeting, visitation, and other business of the parish, it’s been a little busy
So, here I am on Groundhog’s Day, finally sticking my head up from the hole of my office to write the article, but I can’t see my own shadow for all the piles on my desk (Get it? Groundhog, hole, shadow? Ha, Ha. No? Sony…)
But February 2nd isn’t just Groundhog’s Day— it is the birthday of at least a couple of Trinity members (extra points if you know who!) ,AND it is connected with the ancient celebration of Candlemas. What, you may be asking, do Groundhogs have to do with the celebration of Candlemas? And why should we care?
Dating back to 542 AD, Candlemas was the day that candles for use in the church and the home for the coming year (beeswax only, please!) were brought to church to be blessed. That seems a bit odd to us, I suppose. We would probably not bring light bulbs to church to be blessed (visions of people carrying 4’ long fluorescent tubes like Star Wars light sabers comes to mind), but in those days, candles were really important. They were quite literally the light in the darkness of every day life.
The timing of the day is interesting, too - 40 days after Christmas. It was to coincide with the day of the ritual purifica-tion of the Virgin Mary after giving birth to Jesus (Luke 2:22, Leviticus 12:2-8).
Faithful people of those days looked for God’s blessing wherever they could find it, and they looked pretty hard here. This day celebrating light, midway between the darkest day of winter and spring, came to be seen as a harbinger of good, or bad, things to come. Good weather at Candlemas would indicate severe winter weather to come. It also is the day that bears (by tradition) would emerge from winter hibernation. If they returned to their lairs it was interpreted as meaning severe weather was coming for at least another 40 days.
This connects us to Punxsutawney Phil and his top-hatted friends in Pennsylvania. The Dutch, and Germans before them, believed that if Phil came up and saw his shadow, there would be 6 more weeks of severe winter. If it was cloudy and his shadow wasn’t cast, the weather would be fine. By the way, be did see his shadow, so more winter gloom is coming, but it also is being taken to mean that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the Super Bowl (I’m really not sure how that’s connected, though).
As silly as Groundhog’s Day seems, it always makes me think about the odd things people look to for encouragement and hope. We try to find approval and acceptance in the oddest places and from the strangest people. We try to make ourselves feel better by buying, keeping, and possessing beautiful things (or people). We become addicted to things that promise but can’t deliver. I guess judging the weather by checking out the hibernation habits of a furry woodland creature doesn’t seem too odd after all.
Where is your light in the darkness? Where do you find hope? Look to Christ, the true Light of the World, the One who rose from the ground to bring true light and hope to our darkness. His love heals. His forgiveness redeems and restores. His grace gives freedom and peace.