Sunday, February 1, 2009

Groundhog Day

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Everybody is all stirred up about the Super Bowl tonight. The real celebration, however, comes tomorrow which, in my world, is known as The Feast of St. Chuck. (To understand my reverence for the lowly woodchuck, click here.) I love Groundhog Day not just because I have a penchant for furry rodents (although I do), but because the groundhog (aka woodchuck) has a lesson to teach us—the lesson of the seasons.

This year, most of the U.S. has had a taste of the ravages of winter. Even as I write there are still a half million people without power from an ice storm that hit many southern climes unused to such calamities. Right before Christmas much of my state was without power for 2-3 weeks from a similar event. The storms of winter are not just inconvenient. People die. Some with heart conditions shovel heavy snow and do not survive the exertion. Those who lose power, and therefore heat, sometimes die from the cold or from the various ways they try to keep warm. Fires spread from kerosene heaters. Carbon monoxide from generator exhaust or open gas ovens ensures that some never waken from sleep. Many are killed in accidents on icy roads or sometimes when a frozen tree falls and crushes a car or home. People fall on the ice. Winter has its beauties to be sure, but there is no doubt that it is a difficult, expensive, and dangerous season.

This is not news to woodchucks. When the cold winds start to rip, they grab one last bite of your favorite flower bulb and then head deep into the ground for a winter-long snooze. Once safely underground, their metabolism drops and they live off the fruit of their earlier labors until they hear you setting their table in the garden in the early spring. While those who have not found enough food during the warmer months might never emerge from hibernation, most of them seem to have been raised with the hymn, “Work for the Night is Coming,” and manage to fatten up enough to last through their winter-long nap.

It is winter now and the woodchucks sleep. Since I believe that God speaks through Creation, I think the God-given instinct of the woodchuck has something to teach us about how to approach winter storms. Of course there is the direct message to come in out of the raging snow and ice and don’t take unnecessary risks. But there are also those metaphorical winter storms that hit us. Right now the world is in an economic winter and many of us are learning that we should have saved more during the “warmer” months. There are winters of grief when a loved one is lost. There are winters of illness that pound our physical bodies and winters of emotional strain that make it difficult to get out of bed.

The woodchuck teaches us that despite the workaholic nature of our society, there is a season to hibernate. There is a time to stop all labor, crawl into a hole, and let the storm pass. But the woodchuck also teaches us that hibernation is a season, not a lifestyle. There is also a time to come out and re-engage the world with love and labor, the things that make us healthy enough to live through our next hibernation. The woodchuck reminds us of the necessity of Sabbath in balance with the work of our hands, especially when a stormy season comes.

To everything there is a season. Celebrate the Feast of St. Chuck by acknowledging the seasons of your life. Acknowledge that while there may be strange guys in top hats eager to pull you out of your lovely sleep too soon in order to predict the weather; God has sanctioned hibernation as a normal and natural part of Creation. Work will have its season once the storms are past.

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