Groundhog Day; Seeking The Light; Befriending The Shadow

February 2, 2011 - 4:14 pm 122 Comments

For February 2- St.Blaise\Groundhog\Candlemas

Selected Reading: The Light Within

[“The truth is that we cannot be left unchanged by encountering others… Every relationship of our lives, every turning toward one another rather than away from others, or choosing to hide oneself, is an ever-deepening encounter with God, and with our essential humanness.

When we allow ourselves to experience this, when we love, we discover that our fear can only be finally dispelled by the confrontation, by the embrace and the grace of the encounter itself. Each time we are willing to live in the light, the shadows covering ourselves are dispelled and less fear survives. The reality of such love and courage casts out our fears, the more practiced, the more perfect it becomes.”]

Reflection for Candlemas ( February 2nd)

Today is the day in the Western or Christian calendar that is known by two names: The Feast of the Purification, and as Candlemas. Both relate to the infancy of Jesus; the first focuses on Mary, and the second on the prophecy regarding Jesus’s life. According to the health beliefs of the Biblical era, women were held to be somehow unclean, unholy after the birth of a child. There was a strict time of waiting and purification that had to be observed before any woman was permitted to join in public worship again.

Mary, being a righteous, observant Jew, followed her instructions, waiting the required thirty days after the birth of a male child before she could regain her place in the public worshipping community. Given that a child is not recognized as alive, viable, or a part of communal life until they are eight days old, 38 days from Christmas is February 2nd.

The second, less exclusionary or non-patriarchal holy day is known as Candlemas. Originally a pagan holiday or a celebration known to the Celtic, Druids and the Gauls of prehistory, February 2nd was the day when they celebrated the return of warmth and light back into their lives and the Sun back into the growth cycle of the earth and the world. Light and candles as the personal and communal representation of Holy light were used in every home or clan. It symbolized the diffusion of darkness and the hope of illumination. Light and candles brought greater hope for survival and signaled the beginning of the planting season. When Christianity adopted this ritual the Church considered it a time when we are asked to share the light of God, the light and life found in Christ with others we meet. This commission originates from the infancy story in Luke where Simeon and  the prophetess Anna, see the baby and Simeon proclaims that “this child will be a light unto the Gentiles.”

Early Christians took this indication and used it to initiate the sharing of the Gospel in their community, and to spread the word of their mission among those who did not know of their existence, in an effort to bring them into their community. Symbolically, in their homes, and in those small early churches, they would customarily bless their supply of candles used for worship and let candles symbolize their growing enlightenment in Christ.

How can we use this day in our lives now? By sharing our hearts, by giving of our own light, our love to one another. Today, and each year hereafter, I ask that you take a moment, go off by yourself, or sit as a family, taking a new candle with you, and then light it.  As you do, begin to think or pray silently…

No matter what issues or problems you might be currently facing, offer this new light as your symbol of new hope, new spiritual energy or dedication in your life. We remember that the candle is the ancient symbol, East and West, of visible energy alight and alive in our world. As it burns in our Cosmos, in our presence, know that it helps to illumine our world, warming our hearts, giving us hope to endure, overcome, and be grateful. I invite you to take a candle home with you today.

 

Holy One, source of all light and love,

There are many dark temptations, negative motives, in our world. Help us to know them, resist them, and enable us to grow in grace so that our inner light can pierce any darkness we feel, any doubt or problem we face. Show us the way, Holy One; be a light unto our path.  Amen

 

Prayer: Candlemas (can be used as a unison or as a responsive reading)

May our eyes remain open, even in the face of tragedy

May we not become disheartened.

May we find in the dissolution of our apathy and denial

the wisdom cup of the broken heart.

May we discover the gift of the fire burning, in the inner chamber of our being– burning great and burning bright enough to transform any pain or poison.

May we offer the power of our sorrow to the service of something greater than ourselves

May our guilt not rise up to form yet another defensive wall– may the suffering purify and not paralyze us.

May we endure; may sorrow bond us and not separate us, and may we come to realize the greatness of our sorrow, and not run from its touch or its flames.

May clarity be our ally and wisdom our support.

May our wrath be cleansing, cutting through the confusions of denial and greed.

May we not be afraid to speak our truth.

May the soul’s journey be revealed and our true hunger fed.

May we be forgiven for what we have forgotten and be blessed with the remembrance of who we really are.

The Terma Collective

 

Groundhog Day: Learning about Our Shadows;

Looking and Living in the Light

Rev. Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

  Tomorrow is Groundhog Day.

It is the day when the latest descendent of Puxatawny Phil,

the Pennsylvania woodchuck,

gives his weather forecast to the Northern states.

    As with most totems, taboos, and folk traditions, they find their origin in much earlier times, yet can still have some modern, symbolic value for us today. While the origin of this day is ancient, it relates to certain psychological and spiritual truths relating to facing one’s fears, overcoming denial, and moving toward the courage necessary to develop new insights and foster greater enlightenment in ourselves, and our community.

The origins of Groundhog day can be generally traced to the Germans and/or the Dutch, in the Middle Ages. The popular belief was that special, mysterious qualities and powers were to be attributed to any hibernating animal.

As the folk story goes, all hibernating animals awaken briefly on February 2nd, somehow acknowledging a subtle shift in the earth’s increasing light. These special animals were equipped with an internal biological clock that assisted them in discerning the signs of the Spring. They would awaken and venture out of their lair, cave, stump, or hole and look around – checking to see whether Spring was close; sniffing and sensing when it was that the warmth would return to the Earth.

As a rule, these deep sleeping animals were skittish, wary, hesitant by nature. They would act cautiously, being ever on guard against anything abnormal, anything that might upset their security or routine. If anything did startle them, anything they were afraid of, they would rapidly scamper back to their homes for safety.

As this legend goes, as every schoolchild knows, the ideal weather forecast would be when the hibernating animal opened their eyes, look around and find that it was a normal, cloudy winter’s day. This safe, expected and comfortable result. When the animal was not spooked, there will be only six more weeks of Winter. What a relief! However, when the animal emerged and saw bright sunlight, and when they looked around and saw shadows, they would be startled, upset, and would run to safety. This fear reaction would predict that the Winter would be prolonged, harsh, and that the people’s problems would persist for at least another month and a half!

As with many customs, the European immigrants brought their beliefs with them to our country. The German and Dutch, who settled in Amish country, brought us the legend of the groundhog. Along with the Farmer’s Almanac, this day remains a part of Americana, and for some it remains a natural meteorological marvel – a kind of biological

timing or correspondence where animals attest to certain rhythmic truths that science has yet to disprove, and I would say, that science has yet to learn fully from its wisdom that states that all life is an interconnected and interdependent living whole.

However, today, however, my theme will not be ethnobiology, sleep and hibernation cycles, or any other celestial correspondences concerning the weather. Instead, it will focus on the emotional and spiritual climate in our lives. …

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Using the story of the groundhog, I will explore possible lessons in awareness and growth that can be gained from looking at our shadows and learning to live in the light. One of the early pioneers in depth psychology and spirituality was Carl Jung. An analyst by training, after breaking with Freud, he began to explore religion, symbols, and myths. Among his valuable or lasting contributions to human understanding has been his theory concerning the dynamics of personal change. Using the metaphorical process called psychoalchemy, after the ancient, and mystical teachings, he outlined the stages of change we can go through in personal and spiritual maturity.

Jung states that we proceed down hard-won steps from a focus on an unenlightened egotism and a a general lack of awareness of God or the Higher Self, towards a realization  that we contain holy light and sacred darkness within us. Jung believed, and it is commonly held by most of today’s physicians of the soul, that every human being has to go through courageous and unavoidable steps or stages of self knowledge or internal recognition. Each of us has to discover and become aware of the light and the dark found within our innermost thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and ideals. Furthermore, we have to be willing to discover, explore, and admit to our negative tendencies, our shortcomings, our sins, or flaws. These places in our thinking, feeling, and acting are often hard for us to identify, or accept. Jung decided to call that repressed or unacknowledged part of us, the shadow. … This shadow walks behind and within us, as our hidden selves which we do not necessarily see, or admit readily to oneself or to others.

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Like the groundhog, the most common response to the negative shadowy experiences we have, or to whatever threatens or plagues us, is to run and hide. Yet, this is not a shadow that can be fully hidden or outrun, for what we resist, persists.

Additionally, what remains unknown or unidentified, can become powerful feelings, attitudes, perceptions that can dictate or exert control over us. The shadow side of humanity exists as a part of all of us – it is a compilation of all our unresolved fears, worries, and egotistical tendencies. One of the goals in Jungian analysis, and allied to my work through spiritual direction, is to be willing to identify and recognize these traits and tendencies. Furthermore, since these shady parts are all a universal part of the human condition, no one is exempt from having a darker side to their personalities. Therefore, we can all readily admit that there is personal and spiritual work to be done, without engaging in any nasty personal judgments or harsh demoralizing conclusions. This shadow-self represents our defense mechanisms, our ego strategies, our emotional dysfunctions – any and all ways of thought, emotion, and action that keep us anxious, alienated, stressed, or depressed. As we work to identify these qualities about us and admit that they are a portion of the whole self, in the language of Jung, “befriend” our shadow material. Jung postulates that rather than run away from our fears, the goal of individuation or wholeness hinges on our willingness to befriend our poison and pain, fears and anxieties and like the alchemist, we are to transform those negative energies and experiences into stronger personal growth, clear motives, and greater personal maturity.

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While I might have some difference of opinion with this approach, I can appreciate its value in gaining a stronger sense of who and what a person contains within them. Where it principally breaks down for me, is in the passive state of befriending. While identification and knowledge of our psychological states and traits is an important the next level is also needed.

I feel that it is not enough to admit that certain negative traits are a part of us, but that true alchemy involves transformation of most, if not all, these shadow elements in one’s life. Also, I realize that it is an evolving and never ending lifetime of work and compromise the tasks of wholeness and integrity that constitute the challenges of mid-life and beyond.

We change our minds and hearts as we honestly face them, and then, like the alchemist, we take the next step of substantial change or spiritual redemption where these steps can transform that energy into a larger, more constant sense of our whole lives in God or if you prefer, in the personal process of learning equipoise, balance, harmony, compassion and love.

The way of the groundhog is a way that is ultimately self-defeating. We cannot continue to run from one panic to another and expect to accomplish any inner peace, serenity, justice, or self-acceptance. Nothing replaces the work that we all have to do, the exalting and liberating work of change, growth, and wholeness. It can be said that many parts or dimensions of our world have a shadow side to them. …. As quick examples, the shadow side of capitalism is poverty, the shadow side of business is greed, the shadow side of pleasure can be addiction. …

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Every school, social group, family or institution has a shadow; so do churches and congregations.

We are learning to live in the light, you and I; learning to work through any shadows that loom, and any of the threats that lurk. Light is the universal, spiritual remedy, for there is no darkness a spiritual community’s desire to live in the light cannot pierce. Our task is to grow into the light, as individuals, as a congregation.

As Jesus told his followers when they asked how they could be disciples and witnesses to the spiritual reality they could share, he said, “You are the light of the world.” May we be so filled with that light, that we shine radiantly, dispelling the shadows of the past, and walking together into the new light of hope and growth.  AMEN

 

 

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