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Be Still

Remove the right front wheel and bring it inside. Such a wonderful Advent image. I could  use it in my sermon this coming Sunday. And get two for the price of one, if I use it also in my spiritual focus, long overdue in this busy season. Remove the wheel and bring it inside. The image isn’t mine of course – I found it, again, as I was re-reading Gertrud Mueller Nelsons’ book on the liturgical year (To Dance With God). The image isn’t really hers, either. Like most archetypal symbols, it belongs to no one – and everyone.

Remove the right front wheel and bring it inside. That’s an action performed by pre-Christian peoples living in the north in the early winter dark, according to Nelson – removing the wheels from their carts and wagons, “festooning them with greens and lights and [bringing] them indoors to hang in their halls.” It’s the origin of the Advent wreath, the great circle of evergreens that Christians appropriated to count down the fours Sundays of preparation for the Christmas feast. Its pagan symbols resonate with Christianity in this time of the liturgical year: light in the growing darkness; hope in the face of uncertainty; faith in an age of cynicism and despair.

Remove the right front wheel and bring it inside. Mueller speaks poetically of the symbolism of the image, before positing this playful challenge – what if we moderns were to move beyond metaphor, and do as the ancients did? What would it mean for us, to remove the right front wheel from our vehicles and forego the distractions of busy bustling ? A changed sense of time. An exercise in patience. An affliction of inactivity just when the tempo is reaching its seasonal height.

Preacher, heal thyself.  In a rush to get to my long list of things to do, I shoveled my way through the slushy snow of last Sunday morning before heading off to church. I should have listened to my body, which sent out small twinges from a certain lower back muscle with a past history of misdemeanors. I should have listened to my son Peter, who had promised me he would clean the driveway in his own time. I should have listened to my departed mother, whose voice still speaks clearly in my head: “Haste hath no blessings.” I should have listened to myself, at least the wiser part of me that knew I was taking on too much at the start of a busy week. Advent is a time of quiet hope and patient waiting. That’s the message for other people:  the students I counsel, the congregation to whom I preach. For me, it’s life on the fast track. So much to do, so little time.

And so I sit here on a snowy morning, meditating on the three kindled flames of the Advent wreath. I can imagine, easily, that the front wheel of the car hides beneath the greens. I won’t be driving anywhere today. Nor will I be shopping for gifts, picking up groceries, or keeping any of the appointments I made for a Tuesday afternoon during finals week. Instead I will sit, as still as I possibly can, humbled. The heating pad will do its slow, healing work on my lower back. The things that must be done today will be done by others. Seven days remain in Advent. It’s not too late for a day’s retreat. My body has chastened me into obedience. At last, my soul must listen. Be still, and know that I am God. Be still, and know. Be still. Be.