The wise virgins by Phillipe Tissot, Brooklyn Museum
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
– The Gospel of Matthew
Those of us of a certain age remember the oil crisis of the 1970s. After the OPEC oil embargo of ’73, oil prices skyrocketed 350% It had a dramatic, rippling effect throughout the economy. I was in high school at the time, so my recollections are more pointedly personal. One is that my patriotic mother, responding to President Carter’s exhortation to act as one nation in conserving oil, cranked the heat down pretty dang low in Hackensack, NJ. We had a family room that was about 10x 12, a former sun porch with heavy, insulated curtains on all the windows. We would all flop there to watch tv with the space heater running, and about a half hour before bedtime (yup, even teenagers had bedtimes back in the day!) someone would rush upstairs to the arctic tundra of the second floor and turn on the electric blankets. (I know, they aren’t good for you. They saved our hides those conservation-focused years!)
Other than bundling up in our sweaters as the president asked us to do, we tried to muster up patience. We waited for ages on gas lines. We stayed in touch with grandparents and elders to make sure they weren’t getting cold due to stingy landlords or their overzealous participation in democracy. We did the speed limit on highways (gasp!) because it made gas go farther.
It was an equal “opportunity to pitch in” crisis, and I think history would say that we rallied pretty well as a nation. This is a good week to remember that we do, after all, know how to do that when we have the will.
In the Gospel this week, we hear that ever poignant story of the ten virgins who are awaiting the bridegroom. All have lamps, only five have completed their Cadette GS camping badge and have brought critical supplies in case the wait is long. What strikes me reading this story today is that the issue in this tale is not access. There’s oil. It’s a problem of planning. Of being prepared. The task the young women are asked to do is not unusual nor is it onerous. One might even say that it’s sort of “every day,” if it’s a princely wedding day. They just have spaced out what’s critical to get the job done.
And isn’t that too often the case for all of us. Often, I find myself spiritually depleted. But there’s no excuse: I’ve just forgotten the essentials, forgotten to fill up. To pray. To do my meditation practice. To not get too HALT (hungry, angry, lonely or tired). To embrace community and share myself with others, whether that is joy or pain. I just seem to forget, sometimes, that one of my critical tasks as a devotee of the bridegroom is to fill up, and then to turn to my ever abundant supply when running low.
I have to be conscioud of filling up again. Sure, of gas at Joe’s Amoco on Passaic Street in Hackensack, where I whiled away the hours waiting in the dang line. But also of the ready supply of the love of God, the spiritual nourishment we all need to light our way.
Given the challenges of this time — COVID, a fractious election cycle, global climate crisis, rampant racism — I’m musing that now more than ever we need to keep one eye on the lamp, to see whether in addition to all the light it’s pouring out, we’re making sure that it’s staying fully fueled. And because we are community, we get to also keep an eye on the lamps of others, offering promise and hope when the worlds of others are getting dim. We’re not waiting for the bridegroom. We already have the precious gift among us, within us. We just have to love each other and, on behalf of each other, stay watchful.
More on this Sunday. Until then, I cannot express sufficiently my gratitude for who you all are in the world,
An Ecumenical Catholic Community
cháris Χάρις khar’ece
Our name means grace, good will, loving-kindness, favor; of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.