In our secret yearning
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.

I am celebrating Advent in Leuven. Four thousand miles from the city I call home and the people I call family. The bare walls of our little abode remind me that we have not put roots down here. We are pilgrims passing through, and we cannot afford to collect many material things. 

For all the lack of decorations within our flat, there is an abundance of festivity without. Just beyond my door, the streets of the city are filled with lights and trees and bells. The Diestsestraat remains a pedestrian way in order to accommodate the shoppers. The sandwich shop on the corner is employed making waffles day in and day out, sustaining their world-weary, package-laden customers.

And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we
and by those who despair more deeply than do we.

Last Sunday night we gathered at St. Martha and Mary’s for an ecumenical carol service. The theme: parables and pilgrimage. An art project which has been underway for several months in the parish was unveiled. The installation is a collection of portraits, created out of the photographs of the M & M’s parishioners, layered and collaborated together to form the “image(s) of God”. Set ablaze in gold leaf, I discerned the faces of friends as icons. 

Parables, authored by the parishioners, were printed alongside the images. Parables of mercy, sacrifice, wisdom, and pain. In this way, we recounted to one another the edges of our pilgrimage ways. 

Give us the grace and the impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes, 
to the edges of our fingertips.

We were reminded by Father Bieringer that Christ’s Advent is celebrated through the senses. The incarnation is as much an affirmation of our senses as it is an engagement of our senses. The sight of iconographic faces lining the walls of the chapel, the sound of mighty voices singing, the touch of so many hands passing so much peace.

It is this time of year, when the walls of my life are feeling particularly barren, that Advent emerges on the edges. The exteriority of this holy season draws me up and out of myself, into a journey of expectation, into a parable of mystery, into the kingdom of heaven.

Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
and make all things new.

Excerpted prayer by Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth

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