Sunday, February 02, 2003

Groundhog Day

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Psalm 111

I have this response to those of you who will not abate the ongoing contention related to my claim that Groundhog Day is the best of all holidays:

In the ministry you surrender to God and neighbor all weekends, most evenings and holidays, and then work 9-5, Monday to Friday. All this takes a chunk out of the year. Holidays, in particular, carry, shall we say, some stress. Christmas, for an example. There are expectations. Special services. People. Doings.

Behold the blessing of February 2! An utterly ordinary day, and a holiday to boot! No expectations. No special services. No people. No doings. Just the blessing of a single, average, wintry, bereft of expectation day. Groundhog Day. It doesn’t get better than Groundhog Day. A quiet, ordinary, no frills day.

What is ordinary about any day, anyway?

Every one of them is a gem.

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
But the child that is born on the Sabbath Day
Is happy, witty, bright and gay!

Every day is a chance to do a good turn. Do one daily. BE:


The 111th Psalm was meant for use on a holiday, a festival. It is set out in an acrostic format. There are 22 lines, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet. “This is an arrangement that makes for considerable artificiality”. Well yes. And some fun! Look what daily, ordinary gifts are celebrated: community, observation, memory, food, history, wisdom.

Reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom. What a remarkable phrase, the beginning of wisdom. A hopeful phrase, too, that wisdom grows. We all have wisdom sayings with which we have grown.

Some are cultural:

A stitch in time saves nine.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Look before you leap.

Some are personal and familial. In my family:

You would complain if you were to be hung with a new rope.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time. And it annoys the pig.
Are you a journalist or are you writing a book?
Where were you before you were born? Down in Canada boiling soap.

There are no ordinary days, no insignificant holidays.

Emily Webb stands as our fiercest sentinel to the landscape of this, truth, the Gospel of Groundhog Day.

You will remember that she and George were graduated from High School in Grover’s Corners. On the basis of a frank talking to over a soda, in which Emily criticizes George for being less than fully humble, George decides not to leave home, not to go to college, but to start working an uncle’s farm right away, and to marry Emily, the girl next door. You remember their wedding. “ A man looks pretty small at a wedding, all those good women standing shoulder to shoulder, making sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” You remember that Emily, after just a few years of profoundly happy marriage and life, tragically dies in childbirth. You remember that George finds no way to manage the extreme grief of his loss. Simple Yankee English. Simple reckoning about love, life, death and meaning.

Maybe you also remember, in the playwright’s imagination, Emily from the communion of saints looking out on her young husband and wanting to go back.

Others warn her away from the plan: “All I can say Emily, is, don’t…it isn’t wise…(If you must do it) Choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough.” She chooses February 11, 1899, her 12th birthday. She arrives at dawn. She sees Main Street, the drugstore, the livery stable, and breathes the brightness of a crisp winter morning. Simple. She looks into her own house. Her mother is making breakfast, her father returning from a speech given at Hamilton College. Neighbors pass in the snow. Simple. She sees how young and pretty her mother looks—can’t quite believe it. It is 10 below zero. There is fussing to find a blue hair ribbon—“it’s on the dresser—if it were a snake it would bite you”. Simple. Papa enters to give a hug and a kiss and a birthday gift. And others from mother and the boy next door. Simple. “Just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment now we’re all together. Just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.”

Simple. This is the gospel of Groundhog Day, the best holiday of the year, the holiday of the extraordinary ordinary, of the uncommonly common, of the sunlit winter, of the eternal now. Simple. Grover’s Corners. Papa. Mama. Clocks ticking. Sunflowers. Food. Coffee. New ironed dresses. Hot baths. Sleeping. Waking up. “Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

Reverence for Life is the beginning of wisdom.