I owe my seminary education to Bill Murray and St. Augustine.
Let me explain. I received a very generous fellowship due, in part, to the essay I wrote comparing Murray’s 1993 movie Groundhog Day to Augustine’s Confessions. I’ll spare you the academese of the original; in short, Murray’s disgruntled weatherman Phil Connors is doomed to a self-centered, profligate existence on torturous repeat, much like the “counterfeit liberty” of Augustine’s younger years. True freedom comes only when each learns to prioritize selfless love, generosity, and community.
Despite the film’s decidedly secular tone (I’m thinking drinking binges and bachelor auctions), the slow-burning epiphany which finally releases Phil from an eternity of February 2nds hparallels surprisingly well the arc of Christian discipleship..
No wonder the movie has made various faith-related top 10 lists–and not just Christian ones, either. Phil Connors’ journey from schmuck to saint resonates with the universal struggle to figure out what’s important in life and to live accordingly.
In recent years, Murray himself has become a kind of modern-day saint, heralded by hipsters who venerate his zany spontaneity as they pass on stories, urban legend-style, of his escapades. He’s just as likely to crash an engagement photo session as a kickball game; to ad-lib a conversation with teddy bears as a toast at a stranger’s bachelor party.
Yet even these wacky, apocryphal tales carry a deeper meaning for Murray. All of it is fueled by his desire to be in the moment, to connect, to “work your best at being you as often as you can,” to do something that’s going to “wake you up” even if you only succeed in feeling plugged in “for seconds, minutes a day.“
My favorite Bill Murray story is the time he struck up a conversation with a cab driver late at night. Upon discovering that his cabbie was passionate about the saxophone but that his job never allowed him time to play, Murray hopped behind the wheel and meandered through the streets of Los Angeles into the wee hours while the cab driver wailed on his sax in the back seat. Murray kept the meter running and paid the tab.
Recognizing others’ humanity, making space for the dreams of strangers and friends to flourish, being present enough to offer our time and attention where they can make someone’s day; these principles may read straight out of the Book of Bill, but they also layer seamlessly onto Jesus’ call to live our lives plugged into our Source, connected to each other and growing in love, generosity, and community as we labor to bring about the kindom on earth.
This Groundhog Day, do me a favor and watch the classic movie–both for laughs and life lessons. You might just be inspired to start living according to Phil Connor’s very first question when he wakes up on February 3, liberated at last: “Is there anything I can do for you, today?”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron is a thrift-vangelist, writer, preacher, preacher’s wife, mama, and Midwesterner transplanted to the South. She has a not-so-secret passion for pop music and loves being the lone millenial in her baby boomer-filled yoga class. Born & raised UCC, she’s bi-vocational, preaching at Decatur UCC in Atlanta every other Sunday while doing admin work at a big Presbyterian church during the week. She blogs at http://thriftshopchic.com.