"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." -Matthew 25:1-13
The church has collected nearly two thousand years of allegorical interpretation of this parable, some of which suprisingly puts me with the wise virgins (reformation era industrious workaholism, for example) but the parable still scares me because I know better. I'm always forgetting the extra oil. I'm pretty much un-consciousness and un-prepared most of the time.
But the beautiful image of greeting the Bridegroom draws me to the parable anyway. And that image makes me WANT to remember to pack extra oil for my lamp just in case he is detained or dawdles or I'm distracted or detoured along the way.
With this week's reading the church creeps toward Advent, the time to wake up again and renew all those vows of readiness and repentance, acceptance and surrender. I want so much to be like those who "do not fear the dark because their readiness lights the search" (Meditation One) and greet the Holy One with garlands and shouts and lighted lamps (Meditation Two). But living in time and in place calls me to respond to responsibilities at hand; justice and the re-making of my self and my world (Meditation Three).
Be sure to check out Merton's twist on the parable, right hand column, bottom.
Sharing my lamp oil, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Love Precedes Them Face to face with our limits, Blinking before the frightful Stare of our frailty, Promise rises Like a posse of clever maids Who do not fear the dark Because their readiness Lights the search. Their oil Becomes the measure of their love, Their ability to wait ? An indication of their Capacity to trust and take a chance. Without the caution or predictability Of knowing day or hour, They fall back on that only Of which they can be sure: Love precedes them; Before it No door will ever close.
-T.J. O'Gorman quoted from An Advent Sourcebook Liturgy Training Publications Thomas J. O'Gorman, editor
Lady that in the prime of earliest youth, Wisely hast shun'd the broad way and the green, And with those few art eminently seen, That labour up the Hill of heav'nly Truth,
The better part with Mary, and with Ruth, Chosen thou hast, and they that overween, And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen, No anger find in thee, but pity and ruth. Thy care is fixt and zealously attends To fill thy odorous Lamp with deeds of light, And Hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure Thou, when the Bridegroom with his feastfull friends Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night, Hast gain'd thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure.
-John Milton 1608-1674 Sonnet 9
overween. To presume or exaggerate through arrogance. spleen. Temper or ill-nature. ruth. Feeling of compassion or sorrow.
Keep your lamps, trimmed and burning, Keep your lamps, trimmed and burning, The time is drawing nigh. Children donít get weary, children donít get weary, till your journeyís done. Days of darkness soon be over, days of darkness soon be over, the light is drawing nigh. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, the time is drawing nigh.
Foolish Maiden, Martin Schongauer
The Second Wise Virgin, Martin Schongauer, before 1483
Meditation Two (Insight) Lighted Lamps and Garlands
BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out With lighted lamps and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. It may be at the midnight, black as pitch, Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich. It may be at the crowing of the cock Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock. For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride: His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side. Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place, Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face. Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing, She triumphs in the Presence of her King. His Eyes are as a Dove's, and she's Dove-eyed; He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride. He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love, And she with love-voice of an answering Dove. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out With lamps ablaze and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. -Christina Rossetti 1830-1894 Advent Sunday
Meditation Three (Integration) Readiness for Responsibility As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world -- that is the myth of the "atomic age" -- as in being able to remake ourselves. -Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948 We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 Letters from Prison
The Last Word
You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. -Romans 13:11-12
Parable of the Wise and Fooish Virgins, William Blake, 1822
When I click on a website, or Facebook, or an email, or Wikipedia, or the NYTimes online, I expect an immediate response. If I've been clicking around for a few hours, I notice that life offline is a bit clumsy. I get up from my desk and it actually takes a couple of minutes to boil water for tea, and the toaster seems to taunt me, biding its time. I'm frustrated that the doctor's office takes a day or two to call back with results from a test. Only when I work in the garden do I settle down again, letting time take its own time, through years, through seasons; the cycle of new blades, and buds, and blossoms, and seeds unfolding at just the right time, nourished from the dark secret life underground.
The difference between the wise and foolish maidens was that the wise ones allowed for the possibility that the bridegroom would come in his own time. They prepared for a long wait, looking forward to the thrilling moment when all his friends would create a luminous pageant to greet the new couple. The women knew the wait was worth the love they would be allowed to show when the Bridegroom came with his bride.
I am both the prepared and unprepared maiden sleeping on the steps. When I am wise, my disposition is more like a gardener who knows that winter's dark delay is not only necessary but rewarded. When I am foolish, I expect an immediate response to my desire and miss the slow-motion reality of the eternal present in which dark and light are one.
And so I am continually like a child learning to tell time again. Be prudent. Slow down. Go deeper. Love the darkness. Expect delays.
And One More "Last Word" The Five Virgins
There were five howling (or scatter-brained) virgins Who came To the Wedding of the Lamb With their disabled motorcycles And their oil tanks Empty. But since they knew how To dance A person says to them To stay anyhow. And there you have it, There were five noisy virgins Without gas But looking good In the traffic of the dance. (but well-involved in the action of the dance) Consequently There were ten virgins At the Wedding of the Lamb.
-Thomas Merton, Collected Poems thanks to Lauren Winner for drawing attention to this poem