Some experts were talking on the radio about “mirror pandiculation.” I see a lot of that. In fact most public speakers in warm spaces in the middle of winter do, and at other times of year also. I had a lot of questions to ask, but the experts agreed that not much is known about why people do it, just that they do. Other creatures also pandiculate, but mirror pandiculation seems to be limited to higher primates, and is often observed in people, while other primates may just do it coincidentally. Could this be the meaning of the “image of God,” that theological trait that no one seems to be able to define, except that human beings have it, and other animals don’t?

Mirror pandiculation occurs when you yawn, and then I feel the need to yawn also, although I had not felt that need until your yawn triggered mine. It’s hard to stifle a yawn, so usually we just go ahead and do it. Even in church. When it comes to spontaneity in church, apart from occasional applause and even rarer “Amens,” yawns are the single most frequent spontaneous behavior.

Does God yawn? If our sympathetic yawning reaction to one another is in the image of God, then we must believe that God does yawn, at least in some figurative, transcendent way. When human beings could not care less about some turn of events, and we practice apathy, then perhaps it is a signal to God that patience is in order and this particular matter must wait, at least until someone else is willing to pay attention. On the other hand, when we take up some matter with urgency and intensity, we draw from God’s power and surely do try God’s patience and “wear God out” in another way. Either way, a divine yawn might be in order, and if we are sensitive to fluctuations in God’s power, our yawns may again be triggered in response, leading to the usual chain reaction.

I wish that there were other behaviors that called for such a ready mirrored response. Sympathy and empathy remain in short enough supply that we need to call attention to the need for them to extend farther than they do.  They occur naturally in people but not in sufficient quantities. We never seem to run out of yawns, and as noted before, they are hard to stifle, unlike human caring for people who are outside a defined realm of family or group. But let anyone yawn, anyone from any group, and you feel the need to respond.

So I appreciate the need for mirror pandiculation, and I want to encourage it (as if I didn’t do that enough already). Let it be a symbol, when it occurs, of all the other things that could lead to improvements if we just did them with the same responsiveness to one another.