Ten Bridesmaids

Some might say that the monastic life is one of a perpetual Lent. I am more inclined to agree with those that say that the monastic vocation is more of a perpetual Advent – a way of life that is about anticipating the coming of the Reality of God in Christ, a way that is given to waiting. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is instead filed with vitality and an energy of hope and expectation. Sunday’s Gospel and it’s telling of the parable of the ten bridesmaids gives us the first glimpse of the virtue of waiting, which will be once again be a common thread that runs through Advent. The parable also teaches us about another virtue, that of being prepared.

Weddings can be joyous and wonderful, but they also come with stress points, especially for the bride, the bridegroom, and their families, who try their best to hold the center of the celebration. There have been many stories throughout the ages that confirm that thigs can go wrong and often do, that sometimes there are surprises and unexpected delays. In the case of the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the unexpected was the delay in the arrival of the groom.

It was the custom at the time for the bridesmaids to wait with the bride’s family for the arrival of the groom and when he arrived to light their lamps and process with him to his family’s home where the festive wedding celebration would take place. So this is the contextual setting of the parable.

For many of us the idea of waiting and watching – of being on alert – for the arrival of the Divine Reality of God is something that is easy to understand. We need to be ready when the moment comes, whatever that means. But what does that actually mean? Does it mean the second coming of Christ? In the upcoming Advent season we will remember the initial in-breaking of God – the light piercing darkness of our world in the Divine Person of Jesus. We will also anticipate the future coming of Christ – or the returning of Christ. But what about the in-between time in which we are living. Jesus came to us some two-thousand years ago and yes, I believe he will come again – but could it also be that Christ continues to come to us each moment of every day in our lives. Is not the Reality of God incarnate in every breath and every heartbeat? I say yes. And this can dramatically affect how we live this spiritual experience we call life. But we must be sure that our spiritual lamps are well oiled, otherwise we may miss the moment – in each moment – of our lives.

The other thing that stands out for me is the seemingly lack of hospitality and generosity on the part of the bridesmaids who were prepare and asked to share what they had. Their response was no. This may seem incongruent with the spirit of compassion and love for your neighbor. But it feels to me like there is a deeper message to be heard, a greater lesson to be learned for us here. We cannot rely on other to do our spiritual work for us. And to be over-invested in doing the spiritual work for others is to deny them the opportunity to realize the fruits of their own spiritual labor.

On day I was talking to my monastic friend and teacher Brother Nick Radalmiller about my work in the jails and teaching with the inmates. He warned against letting people get too attached to me and my spirituality because to do so would deny them their own authentic path. That wisdom has served me well over the years, but the real benefit is seen in how other begin to form their own theology and discover their own spiritual identity.

So we must stay alert and at the ready not just in remembering the past or anticipating the future, but in every living, breathing moment of our lives, because God is continually coming. And we must find our oil, do our own spiritual work in order to have the rich experience that is unique to each and every one of us individually.        

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