Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mother Nature and Her Groundhogs

Feast of the Presentation

Depending on your viewpoint, February 2 is Groundhog Day, the Feast of the Presentation, Candlemas (for those preferring the old name for the Feast of the Presentation), or some combination thereof.  Of Americans who know February 2 is some sort of special day, probably more people are familiar with the secular Groundhog Day than with the liturgical day. (See Feb 2 2011 post Candlemas Light  for more about the Feast of the Presentation.)

Groundhog Day is when “the groundhog” – traditionally any old woodchuck, real or imagined, that happened to poke its head out, but increasingly taken to mean a specific groundhog kept in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – looks out after a long winter’s sleep. If the groundhog sees its shadow, it goes back in for six more weeks of winter; if it doesn’t see its shadow, it sticks around for an early spring. It’s the sort of folk observance that can be fun; it’s only when people take it as seriously predictive that it stops being fun.

Sandhill Cranes, Hall County, January 2012
We have a winter storm on the way this week, but so far this winter has been mild, with some temperatures above average and precipitation below average. While we have been experiencing our pleasantly abnormal weather, other places have experienced unusual weather patterns that resulted in the sorts of severe weather and floods we might expect in spring rather than winter. If we do have a mild end to winter – an early spring – we would do well to look for causes other than a woodchuck afraid of its shadow.

It’s common for weathercasters and the rest of us to talk about Mother Nature controlling the weather. No doubt someone this evening is saying, “Mother Nature has some winter weather in store for us”. The personification of natural forces in Mother Nature goes back to ancient times and its part of our language, but we know that changes in weather have causes other than the whims of an unseen woman. We run into problems when people stop at the playful explanation and lose interest in reality.

The Gospel reading for the Daily Office on the Feast of the Presentation is John 8:31-36: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The reference to the truth in this passage is to the essential, saving truth in Christ’s word. The Greek word translated as truth is the negative noun form of a word meaning to keep hidden or secret, to lie. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus, using the same word, says, “I am the truth”. Christ is the personification of truth; belief in Christ and belief in truth are bound together.

The future of humankind might very well rest on our paying serious attention to things like the extremes that have been so apparent the past several months. (See for example NOAA: 2011 a year of climate extremes in the United States.) Most climate scientists think that there is a connection between climate change and these extreme events; the question is the degree to which climate change is involved. If that’s the case, then our weather will become increasingly extreme.

We will be in much better shape to respond to what is happening and to take care of ourselves and our global neighbors if we quit hiding the truth behind Mother Nature’s skirts and bring ourselves to look at reality.