“Getting Ready” (Wisdom 6:12-16; Mt 25:1-13)
“Be Prepared” is a famous theme in Boy Scout lore but also frequently shows up in the Scriptures. The injunction in the Book of Wisdom to keep a watchful eye for the coming of God’s presence (Wisdom 6), and Jesus’ praise of the virgins’ vigilance in getting ready to greet the bridegroom (Mt. 25: 1-13) are cases in point. And so a few words about what is involved in building that prepared, attentive and expectant stance.
I think of two people visiting a museum to see a world famous painting, say the Woman with the Pearl Earring which toured the country some years ago.
When the first one came into the room, you could tell she was awed as she approached. Eyes wider, breath slowed down, whole body attuned – and then sitting there for an hour just looking, drinking in the beauty of the colors and the composition and the expressions.
As she lingered there fascinated by what she was seeing, a second person walked in who also had heard of that celebrated painting. He walked up to it, gave it a quick once-over and then said to himself, “It’s ok, but I don’t see what the big deal is. It looks like most of the other pictures I passed ono the way here.” And then he moved on.
A big difference between that awe struck woman and that bored man? She had prepared to “see” it. And he hadn’t. She had gotten herself ready to appreciate the painting. He had done next to nothing in that line.
What preparation? As a child, she remembered something stirring inside her when she looked up at the night skies and watched the waves at the ocean. She tried to follow that sense of wonder and so did some things to sharpen it, like talk with other people about how they too took in sky and ocean. Eventually this desire to notice led her to an art appreciation class. In the course of it, a whole world opened up as she listened and read and looked and compared and travelled around in this universe of beauty and form and color.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen beauty before, but rather she didn’t realize its depth and see the fuller light coming out of its center. Her efforts at appreciation had pushed back the threshold on what and how she was able to see. When she walked into that museum, she was so much more ready to catch the artistry coming at her.
As a child the man also had an eye for nature, but in the busyness of life hadn’t done much to widen that eye. What he saw in that painting was its surface only. Because he hadn’t done anything to “get himself ready,” he wasn’t able to catch anything near its true depth and beauty.
The point of course is that preparation makes a great difference. And isn’t that the case when it comes to recognizing God’s presence in our midst.
A hallowed word for God’s nearness in the Hebrew Testament is Wisdom. In the book whose name it bears, this certain something (Someone) is resplendent, never fades and would fill one up with life and vitality. (Wisdom 6) Its holy energy doesn’t just sit there but actively seeks us out, is solicitous for our welfare and desires that we grow and flourish. But how to be able to recognize this Aura of God when it passes in front of us?
The image Jesus uses in Matthew (25) is the one of the bridesmaids gathered the night before a wedding in anticipation of the groom’s arrival. Some are ready, oil lamps filled to the brim in readiness to light up the room whenever he comes. Some of them are not ready. They did not lay out enough oil in their preparation and so miss out on the groom’s entrance.
So preparedness. Doing things that make us more and more ready to see what of God is coming to us, acting in ways that lower our threshold for hearing God’s voice in life, building attitudes and practices that sensitize us to the finger of God at work in the world.
Isn’t that just what we worshippers do every week — join in the Eucharistic assembly as a way to perk up our hearing and put ourselves more directly in the way of God’s Spirit. Isn’t that what we’re about with any praying — trying to open up the pores and pull back the shades on what of God we can hear and see? Along with prayer and worship, Jesus cites certain kinds of activity which heighten our receptivity to God’s Word. Things like truth telling and working to forgive others — and indeed in our Vincentian world, having affective and effective care for the orphan and the widow and the people on the margins.
These kinds of behaviors are something akin to those art appreciation classes the woman took; they get us ready. Coming to pray with others, joining in the celebration of what Jesus in his love does for us, taking those extra steps to help and serve. Besides being good in themselves they are also ways to be better prepared — more attuned to the splendor of God’s presence as it comes at us, readier to recognize God’s wisdom in the different guises it shows up in the world, readier to tell the difference between what is of the Kingdom of God and what is not.
To a great extent, we see what we come prepared to see. Let us go to prayer and the life of service with this in mind, striving to act in ways that sharpen our sense of where God is moving in our midst.