On Groundhogs and Candles
Yesterday was Groundhog Day, so John and I had to put on one of our favorite movies, the film of the same name starring Billy Murray. “Groundhog Day” tells the story of egotistical weatherman Phil Conners, who reluctantly travels to Punxatawney every year for the festival, while hoping to get out of local news and move on to the big time. But instead, he finds himself living the same day, over and over again. No matter what he does or what happens, he wakes up to February 2nd every morning. No one else is aware of what’s happening to him, and it soon becomes hell. Being stuck in a loop, he just wants to get out, anyway he can. After passing through bewilderment, to delight, to despair, to hopeless resignation, he finally begins to turn outward from himself and start helping other people. Ultimately, what breaks the cycle and causes him to wake up on February 3rd is his move from self-centeredness and greed to compassion and care for others.
I love that film, but I hadn’t actually watched it in more than a year until yesterday, in part because the last 10+ months have felt a little like living in the movie. Pandemic time has made the days run into one another, and there are some days where we’ve even joked that “it’s groundhog day…again.” Time has seemed to slow down, and so often each day seems just like the one before. Like we’re stuck in a loop. I suspect I’m not alone in that sentiment.
But, I also tried to remember that even when I feel stuck, God is present. I spent some time yesterday reading about another holiday that also falls on February 2nd, although one that is a little less well known in our time than Groundhog Day. In the historic church calendar, it’s also a holy day known in English-speaking countries as Candlemas.
Candlemas is one of the most ancient holy days of the church, commemorating the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple and the ritual of purification that his mother Mary underwent 40 days after giving birth, as told in Luke 2:21-35. In medieval times it was a major celebration, with candlelight processions through the streets, and it was the day that the greenery and decorations of Christmas finally were taken down. The priests would bless candles for the year, as a reminder that the Light of the World has come in the presence of Christ. On Candlemas night, people would then place a lit candle in their window at home, and collectively the community would witness to the presence of God’s light in our world.
In a time of so much uncertainty, so much confusion, so much sorrow and grief, we need that reminder more than ever, that the candle of God’s love is never extinguished. That it always glows in the presence of love and compassion, in the community caring for one another and for God’s world. Phil Conners learned that the way out of a broken cycle was to be generous and compassionate; and I think the same is true for our world as well. Alone, we can’t change the course of government policy or fix an economy or cure a virus, but together, we can make a difference. We can break the cycles of isolation and fear little by little, by continuing to do what we’ve been doing—loving, caring, and praying. By sharing the light from our candles, so that the glow and warmth of compassion will shine so brightly that no one will feel alone, forgotten, or uncared for. On this day after Candlemas, will you light a candle—not to curse the darkness, but to serve as a reminder that there is enough hope to go around? That we are not alone, but God is with us—now and always.