December 7th: The Ancient Alchemy of Waiting and Muzzling

Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.

Or, so I’ve been told.

This bit of sophistry that parades around as “wisdom” doesn’t know Advent, the time of idleness and waiting. It doesn’t see the beauty in meditation and stillness. This bit of fake bumper-sticker sloganism smacks of consumerism and the idol of a meritocracy, not the holiness of idleness.

There is a bit of Celtic wisdom that we need for today, a wisdom that understands that for life to spring from the earth there must be certain things that happen: the sun must shine on it…which takes time; the water must nourish it…which takes time and a good bit of chance; and the soil, itself, must be healthy and rich…which happens over time, with a good bit of fallowness.

Irish theologian and poet Padraig O’Tuama notes in his book _In the Shelter_ that historically humans have had trouble giving powerful things a name because in naming anything you are asserting a kind of control over it. This is why, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the name for God is not a name at all, but a gap-toothed acronym.

He goes on to point out that Chaos, too, is called many things in the scriptures. Pellmell is a common one, literally translated as “yonder and far” or “hither and thither.”

Jesus, though, the one who is named in the scriptures, indicating that the Divine is assenting to be known in some form or fashion, offers a different sort of approach.

When Jesus met chaos, often symbolized in the scriptures by a storm, he didn’t name the storm, but rather invited it (sometimes rather forcefully!) to be quiet. Or, as O’Tuama translates the Greek, “to be muzzled.”

“The storm,” he goes on to say, “is like an angry dog or a demon, a force that cannot be put down, only contained. ‘Be muzzled’ is what Jesus says. It is muzzled so it cannot bite.” (p, 20)

This, Beloved, is what Advent is for our world, for our insanely active heads, for our continually torn hearts: an invitation (rather forcefully placed on us in the busiest time of the year!) to be muzzled.

The waiting of Advent is a kind of alchemy, a hidden swirling of subtlety that works on us.

Be muzzled to have a chance for the sun to shine on our souls a bit. Be muzzled to absorb the waters of wisdom in these days. Be muzzled to lay fallow for a while and be enriched by the silence.

Idol hands distract, Beloved. Idle hands absorb.

Add to your Advent playlist The Fray’s “Be Still” and follow the lyrics to the very end. They’ll hold you in their hand as you finally let go a bit.

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