I worship regularly with a community of Benedictine nuns. We gather around the Advent wreath, a massive coil of evergreens and deep blue ribbons draped around four handmade candles of beeswax, and began the celebration of the Eucharist.
The priest greets the people and prays the opening collect, giving voice to the longing for peace and justice which weighs heavily in our hearts.
The choir intones the refrain and the congregation — the Sisters and a ragtag lot who have been taught, inspired, and guided by these monastic women — respond in kind. We sing the ancient Aramaic command Maranatha, which means “Come, Lord!” and implore God-in-Jesus to enter into our lives and bring with him peace and mercy, both of which seem to be lacking in a world marred daily by gun violence, sexism, racism, and oppressions of all manner.
And then we do a bold thing: we walk.
Our walk is short — six yards and a few steps — but it is long enough to set the tenor for this holy season. In a world where it would be easy to seclude ourselves and disengage from all the negativity, we walk… together… in silence.
Not more than a few steps are had before the silence is broken naturally enough. A cough here. A whisper there. The perpetual sound of coats and boots and canes shuffling against the floor. Our voices are still, but our bodies aren’t. Indeed, it seems as if our very bodies sing out as we enter the chapel, the whole Body of Christ marching together in quiet contemplation.
We are a mixed group of people: students, seminarians, blue collar workers, nuns, a couple of monks, liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites, rich, poor, Buddhist, Catholic, Episcopalian, agnostic, gay, straight, celibate, married. We all share one thing: a strained hope for a world of mercy, of justice, of peace.
And this, I believe, is how we come to God: quietly shuffling along, whispering, coughing, and bumping into one another.
Advent is not a season for triumphant people. It is a season for the broken, for those hurting in body or mind or spirit. It is a season for people who have struggled and fought, who can do nothing else but wait, for all their energy has been expended elsewhere.
It is a season for a people whose exhausted, desperate cry is only, “Come!”