Thursday February 2, 2023
Once or twice a week, a phone call wakes me at 5:30 a.m. I struggle out of deep slumber, fumble for the phone, and hear a recorded greeting: “Hi, this is Daniel from Amazon Prime. We have detected some suspicious activity on your Amazon Prime account…”
I don’t have an Amazon Prime account. I have never had an Amazon Prime account. And thanks to Daniel, I have resolved never to have one.
Daniel must live in a different time zone. Maybe a different planet.
Even though I know Daniel is a recording, I sometimes yell at the phone, “Do you have any idea what time it is here? Go away and leave me alone!”
I expect that groundhogs all over North America have similar feelings every Thursday, February 2, Groundhog Day.
If I were a groundhog, I would be hibernating peacefully in my underground, earth-insulated den, when an arm reaches in, grabs me by the scruff of my neck, and hauls me out into the freezing cold of a winter’s day.
Maybe the arm belongs to someone named Daniel?
And why? So that I can see if I have a shadow that day.
Tradition says that if the day is bright and sunny, six more weeks of winter lie ahead. But if it’s cloudy and grey – or even, heaven help us, a blizzard that has descended directly from the North Pole – winter will soon end
If I were a groundhog, I’d wonder why humans need a groundhog. Don’t they have their own shadows?
Groundhog Day apparently started in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A local groundhog nicknamed Punxsutawney Phil – long may he rest in peace! – needed a midwinter pee break or something. A local newspaper editor made a story out of it.
In reality,, biologists say, male groundhogs sometimes emerge this time of year to look for mates.
Which presumes that females will also respond to some kind of internal alarm clock.
Anyway, for whatever reason, Punxsutawney Phil popped out of his burrow briefly, on February 2, 1887, and started a tradition.
The German settlers in Pennsylvania already had a tradition of observing hibernating animals – hedgehogs, badgers, bears – poking out of their dens on Candlemas Day, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. Groundhogs, more common in America, became the favoured weather-predicting rodents.
Punxsutawney Phil is long gone, of course. Groundhogs rarely live longer than eight years. But hundreds of his meteorological descendants carry on. Shubenacedie Sam in Nova Scotia. Birmingham Bill. Staten Island Chuck.
When I lived in Ontario, I once drove to the Wiarton to see another of Phil’s incarnations, Wiarton Willie. Willie had trouble keeping his eyes open -- not surprising when his hibernating heart rate had slowed to five beats per minute.
The townspeople insisted that the original Wiarton Willie lived for 22 years; skeptics suggested that the original had been replaced by two or three understudies.
Wiarton residents also claimed that Willies’ predictions were right 90% of the time. Environment Canada estimates it closer to 25%.
Even that’s a pretty good average, when I consider how befuddled I can be when Daniel drags me out of deep sleep early in the morning.
Copyright © 2023 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Frank Martens offered a terse summary on last week’s column about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “Your first paragraph hit the nail on the head. The rest of it I read but ignored.”
Kim MacMillan was kinder: “I share your skepticism about Christian unity. I think pursuing truth is more important than superficial agreement put on to show some kind of false unity. Having said that, I also value dialogue and cooperation where that’s possible. But some of what passes for Christianity is, I believe, demonic and a huge corruption of what Jesus was about.
“I also agree about the ‘gimme’ prayers. It reminds me of Janice Joplin’s song ‘O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’, a great spoof on that kind of religion.
“On the other hand, I do think of prayer as very important. But I think it’s more important for the pray-er. In other words, it doesn’t change God, but it can change the person praying. At its best praying is more about listening for the divine presence than about getting God to do things. I think of it, in part, as like a radio tuning into the frequency of a station. In prayer we seek to tune ourselves into the divine frequency, if you will, and to the extent that we do that we gain in wisdom and love, and we are made whole. It is transformational rather than transactional.
“I say this as someone who is not that good at it, but I believe it nevertheless.”
Karen Opit: “Great article this week. I especially agree with your comments on superficial prayer and Christian nationalism in the US.”
Cliff Boldt: “Years ago, a friend of mine helped start an ecumenical group of religious leaders in his city, who met for lunch frequently to discuss the state of the world and their role in it. As a Pastor himself, he often praised this group for keeping him grounded in his Christian faith. He also praised the fact that deeds more than words were the desired priority for the group, regardless of religion.
“I wonder if this kind of ecumenical co-operation might be a good model for governments and politicians to consider?”
Ralph Milton focused on Christian unity unity: “I think God loves diversity. In all creation, I don't think there are any two identical things. As a Creator, God has a very short attention span. Not even two snowflakes alike (although how could we ever really know that.?) There are as many different kinds of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. etc. as there are people who sign on to those groups. Maybe we should learn to celebrate differing viewpoints on everything, even those we think are diabolical.
“Maybe. Or maybe not.”
Isabel Gibson, too: “I remember hearing a story about a minister arriving in a community in Africa and asking the local Christians what denomination they were, only to be met with a blank stare. They were Christians, that's all they knew. A true story? Dunno. But a nice one.”
Laurna Tallman found my comments on prayer the most interesting part: “I agree with you about the superficial nature of so much prayer, whether or not ecumenicity is brought into the picture.
“I agree even more wholeheartedly about prayer in the terms Pete Grieg describes 24/7 Prayer, which is the kind of prayer I learned about when I became part of the so-called Charismatic Renewal. It started with seeing immediate effects on individuals who seek to be prayed for. It became prayer that invested the old, familiar liturgies with tremendous new power. It spilled over into large prayer meetings and into small groups –even two or three people, as Jesus stated, where what we call the Holy Spirit would shape the praying. The various kinds of specialized prayer, such as a daily discipline of prayer, prophesy, healing, praise, speaking in tongues, teachings, discernment, visions, and that indescribable unity of mind and spirit among the congregation of pray-ers became the benchmarks for prayer that ‘rises above the ceiling’.”
Lesley Clare makes connections I hadn’t thought of: “Seems to me that prayer might be an early kind of social media, in its best sense. Prayer keeps something in our thoughts and, hopefully, actions. If we're talking about our prayers, then others get linked in... and our prayers might even go viral.
“Intercessory prayer often bothers me when experienced as a ‘gimme’ or ‘give them’ demand/plea. A while back I read something along the line of intercessory prayer being a way to line us up together in a great cloud of witnesses... leading towards ???? If I were more dogmatic, I might sum it up by saying prayer is God's social media--- and it gets just as much mis-use and positive use.”
I have probably used this paraphrase of Psalm 24 more often, over the years, than any other paraphrase.
1 Turning and turning, our pale blue globe
burns bright in the blackness of eternity.
The Earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it --
All life embodied in the only home we know.
2 God created life in the oceans,
and nourishes it with nutrients from the mountains.
3 Trace the course of a river to its source;
Stand among the mountains and marvel.
Who would dare defile this paradise?
4 God sees through our deceit and denial;
We cannot claim innocence with dirty hands.
We can only approach God with clean hands and pure hearts;
5 Then we will see a smile on the face of God,
Then will God's wisdom be evident in the world.
6 So seek the Lord in high and holy places;
7 Let the vast valleys throw open their arms;
Let the summits stand tall in pride,
For this is the home of the Lord!
8 With all the glory of the universe to choose from,
With all of creation quivering in expectation,
The Lord of life picked this planet as home.
9 So throw open your valleys, O earth!
Spread wide your plains to welcome the Holy One!
10 For the Source of all creation lives here.
Apparently the printed book of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com, or 1-800-663-2775
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