Monday, July 6, 2009

"The Wizened Foolish Maidens"

As a student,there was never much allure for me in the simple fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

So that even now, when I stop to smell the roses, I am aware not only of the scent of the bloom, or the slant of the sun rays along the thorned stem, the dew on the petals - but also the amending of the soil, the pruning back in expectation of other seasons, droughts, aphids, my Grandmother in long sleeves. And then also the later to-be recalled memories evoked by the dried arrangement suspended from the rafters of some future attic (whose location I do not yet know). 

"The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins",    ca. 1803–5
William Blake (British, 1757–1827)

Perhaps that is pecisely why mythology has so much appeal for me..........a format offering more questions in the colorful details than answers. The parables of the New Testament hold the same paradoxical appeal  - even as they were most often taught to me as closed-ended morality lessons.  

"Fractal Fireflies #7" ©                                2009
From The "Spidey-Hole Series, Fractal Fireflies Subset"

The story of the "Wise and Foolish Maidens" told to me from Matthew 25: 1-13 (read here) was taught as a cautionary tale. Warning me to be ever vigilant and mindful of being prepared, the lesson echoed the dire warnings of Civil Defense drills and news reels. The Wise Maidens held their potential in check - waiting, ever waiting for the Groom to arrive. I believed that I too, was expected to tend my lamps and 'trim my wicks', but leave them unlit.

"Waiting for Prince Street"©                                                                        2009

The Foolish Maidens (on the other hand), appear frivolous in their lack of planning - either burning up their reserves (according to some versions) or not bringing fuel at all (according to others). Through their lack of foresight they literally leave themselves in the dark. But this in itself is not what makes these poor Maidens Foolish.

"Vicarious Celebration (5)" ©                                                                     2009

No, these Maidens - upon their return from the Home Depot, with vats of replenished oil - had the unmitigated gall to expect entry through the locked gates to the wedding celebration! And it was this audacity that made them Foolish in the eyes of the other celebrants.

A common interpretation of this parable is that the Foolish Maidens (like the rest of us Foolish Humans) can not, nor should not, expect to have their important work done by others.
This is a valuable lesson to implement as we attempt to navigate the darkened passages of time and social order.

"Fractal Fireflies #8" ©                                      2009
From The "Spidey-Hole Series, Fractal Fireflies Subset"

But I suspect that many of us have burned our lanterns with some abandon: 
and oh, such glorious light!
If denied entrance as guests at the gate, let us not despair. Instead let us grab each other by the hands - a community of Wizened Foolish Maidens. And dance until the dawning - illuminated but by the fractured light of 
countless fireflies.


Mary said...

I always wondered why the ones with fuel didn't have the others take them by the elbow. Light can illuminate the steps of two people who share, just as well as one. Those with vision can lead. Those who blew it can gratefully grab hold, and make the leader laugh with tales of what they were doing when their lights went out. They could all cheerfully make it to the wedding. There is more than one way to get to a party.

Tom Schulz said...

This "third way" interpretation is totally in the spirit of generosity based living. Thank you for bringing this beautifully stated response to light.
Thank you for assisting me to the feast.
Thank you for joining The Conversation.

mommer said...

The Message translation refers to the virgins as smart and silly. I can imagine five silly girls getting ready to meet their hero and go to a party. They did remember the lanterns but were so involved in dresses,hair, and sandals that the need for oil simply slipped their minds.

It is so easy to get caught up in the incidentals (and essentials) of life that the mission is neglected. And we always hope for another invitation.

Tom Schulz said...

In a universe of abundance, can we work within the understanding that we receive countless invitations at every moment?
Perhaps the real foolishness is assuming that the invitation will be recognizable to one in the process of squandering their light.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Thanks for joining The Conversation, Mommer.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom, it's nice to hear your reflections and I want to spend more time with them. I remember a sermon on this text that wondered if some oil cannot be shared; that perhaps the oil in this text is like the fruits of years of reflection or discipline or prayer. No matter how much we want to offer such oil to another, they can only tap into the oil that they have stored themselves, their own maturity or wisdom or gospel. Just a thought... Cathy

Tom Schulz said...

Great thought, Cathy. Very insightful to take this dialogue and make it an interior one. Perhaps the oil of the lantern is our well of experience. At times we perform admirably and magnificently from this experiential field. Other times? Maybe not so much.
To move away from the binary,would we want to realize that it is in the overlapping of the two extremes where lies the fertile ground that is the rich loam of maturity and awareness?
Thanks for joining The Conversation.