By Revd Phil Wales
School, colleges and universities have all now begun the autumn term. Over the summer months there have been enormous efforts to make sure that students are able to return to their studies safely. Even so, disruption to their learning will, of course, be inevitable as a consequence of the measures designed to limit the impact of Covid-19.
Our school years are, of course, hugely significant. We are nurtured and equipped with the knowledge and skills that we’ll need throughout the rest of our lives. Those formative experiences may have helped shape an enduring sense of curiosity and wonder about the world which God has given us. But this is not always so. There are many things which could become obstacles which may set us back on this journey of discovery. But these obstacles should not be seen as permanently insurmountable. Each day brings new chances to be transformed if we recognise both the opportunities and their origin.
The romantic comedy ‘Groundhog Day’ has an enduring appeal for some. It tells the story of a grumpy TV weatherman, Phil Connors. He is sent, along with his TV crew, to a small town, Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania, from where he is to broadcast the next day’s forecast. The town hosts the annual Groundhog Day celebrations. The feted groundhog is supposed to be able to forecast the coming of spring. Having completed their work, the crew begin to leave for home but a snowstorm (note: not predicted by the weather forecaster!) forces them to find a hotel in the town for the night. The next day our character awakes to find himself reliving the previous day over again. He then seems destined to repeat this experience forever. Until, that is, he begins to change. This quirky, funny, film has lodged itself in the popular memory. The phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ is often used as a form of shorthand to describe a sense of never-ending stuckness as well a longing to move beyond it.
This process of coming fully to our senses, recognising who we are, what we are here to do and how we are to live (as Jesus tells us in the parable of the prodigal son) may take a very long time indeed. In fictional Phil Connor’s case, we don’t know exactly how long it may have taken for him to start out. It could well have been decades of living the same day over and over again.
But the experience of God’s transformative power in our lives isn’t something which is out of reach, a long way off. In Jesus, God calls us to meet him as we are now (today, in this exact moment), not as we think we ought to be at some remote point in the future or even how others from the past have told us we should be today. And yet we may still find it difficult to receive God’s grace. Not because God is selective but because we may not recognise the opportunities which God gives us to receive it.
Knowing and accepting who we are in relation to God means that none of us have to live out a ‘Groundhog Day’ existence of our own making. Rather we may choose to accept God’s gift of love and so experience each day as the beautiful miracle that it is.