As Advent approaches the Sunday readings begin to alert us that a time of preparation draws near. Really we shouldn't be thinking about being spiritually prepared only at this time, but we should consider it at all the other times in our lives also. The time of preparation isn't just about Advent and the birth of a baby in Bethlehem or even about final things; it's also about how we live in the here and now.
The readings today start us off with a few verses from Wisdom. It's one of the Old Testament books that we don't hear from a lot during the course of the year, and if we were to look at its nineteen chapters on the whole we might find the book of Wisdom to be quite different in many ways from what we are used to reading in biblical literature. There's been a lot written by scholars about the identification of Wisdom, who is personified in the work—or Sophia as she is called in the Greek language in which it was written—but, the author identifies Wisdom with the spirit of the Lord. I'll come back to this in a moment.
Not coming originally from the liturgical tradition of having the cycle of lectionary readings, I was about 18 the first time that I heard the gospel parable of five wise and five foolish virgins. It was pointed out to me by someone who wished to explain his denomination's doctrine on the Holy Spirit. He pointed out to me the idea that oil in the story symbolized the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, again we have the spirit of the Lord as a repeated theme.
However, most scholars will say that the oil in the parable more likely symbolizes the presence, or the absence, of good deeds. We are taught to let our light shine, thus we have to have oil in our lamps to do this. In our times the foolish virgins would have probably not paid their electric bill, or they might have purchased cheap batteries. However, I think that our deeds may more likely be the light that shines and the oil is the source of the deeds. Regardless of which it is, the five foolish virgins were not adequately prepared. Their lives hadn't been lived in the right spirit, and oil is a recurrent symbol of the anointing or the spirit of the Lord and the idea of preparation. Before and after we baptize we anoint.
As we attempt to live lives of preparedness, whether it's in getting ready for Advent, for our day-to-day experiences, or even for final things, it's good to ask ourselves what spirit guides our lives. Is it the mind that was in Christ Jesus or is it some other spirit?
It's too easy it seems to get caught up in a spirit that the Lord warned us about. We should perhaps ask ourselves whether in our attempt to be religious or to do the right thing we are not doing exactly what we were warned about. Indeed Christianity is about living in the spirit, but it's about a spirit that we may not often consider.
For an example I like to look at the folks who Jesus had around him. They weren't the kind of people we necessarily even mention in polite company. Jesus preferred the marginal people of the world: the ones on the outside of blessedness as far as most other people were concerned. The wisdom of the Lord is really not the kind of wisdom the world recognizes as such.
Being in the right spirit, being in a spirit of preparedness, has a lot to do with our attitudes towards others. It has to with fairness and justice, with tolerance and forbearance, with peace and humility. It has to do with service to others, especially to those whom we might not consider serving: the ones who no one else wants to serve. It also means welcoming them among us and accepting them as Jesus does, just as they are.
Above all, the oil that should fill our lamps, the true source of being prepared, is the spirit of grace. Grace seems to me to be synonymous with love. It's all about a gift that's already been given to us. It's that which allows us to let our light shine. It's that which makes us truly wise.
In a piece entitled Calling on Sophia Sister Joyce Rupp writes earlier this year in the National Catholic Reporter:
Radiant and Unfading Wisdom,
your deep love calls to me.
I seek you with all my heart.
Hasten to make yourself known.
Sit at the gate of my heart.
Teach me your ways.
Meet me in my every thought.
Attune my mind to your perceptions.
Open all that is closed within me.
I desire your instruction.
I long to receive and to share your love.
Dance on the path of my life.
Free me from all that hinders.
Deepen all that attracts me to you.
As the mystery of my life unfolds
through the quickly passing years,
draw my love ever nearer to you.
I promise to be awake and vigilant,
attentive to your voice,
I will hide no secrets from you.
Come reveal yourself to me.