The Ten Bridesmaids

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Jim Teeters reflects on the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew 25. Teeters refers to The Message in which we find that of the ten, “Five were silly and five were smart.” The NRSV says, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” The NASB uses the word “prudent.” 

I’ve pondered this parable over the years, and I’ve wondered if I’ve been smart or prudent or wise. But this morning, reading the story again, I notice that no English version I can find ever uses the word “loving.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I know that five of the bridesmaids are, indeed, silly (because if the bridegroom is Jesus, then there’s more than enough oil for everyone). Not only do the silly bridesmaids not come prepared, they also doubt that God is enough. Then in their doubt, impatience, and fear, they run away at the darkest moment.

How exactly do you find more oil in the middle of the night when you have no oil by which to see?

A question for the ages.

Here’s what I know: I want to be one of the wise, prudent enough to be prepared. But I also wonder how the story might go if I were not just wise, but loving, willing to share from the little I’d brought so that others might also enter in.

Eric Muhr

On fear

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Lori Elliott tells of a time she lost her 8-year-old son. He’d left the house while Lori was making dinner. She called emergency services. “I gave the 911 operator a description of Caleb and told her that he had autism and was non-verbal.” Lori wasn’t sure Caleb could tell someone his name or where he lived, and as soon as she was off the phone, Lori joined her husband in a frantic search: “Amboy is a town of about 350 people but at that moment it seemed enormous.”

In the second century Irenaeus of Lyon wrote of recapitulation, an atonement theory that holds we are saved precisely because Jesus has fully lived as human, effectively sanctifying all of human experience: “The Word remaining quiescent, that He might be capable of being tempted, dishonored, crucified, and of suffering death.” Irenaeus doesn’t get into every single aspect of being human, but I think it safe to assume that the fear Lori describes is a fear that Jesus understands.

Fear is powerful.

“As dusk turned to darkness, my heart began to race and I was having trouble breathing,” Lori writes. “I had never been so overcome with fear in my life.”

Fear is also universal. We can relate. I can relate. God can relate.

Lori suggests a prayer we can pray when we’re overcome by fear: “Dear Lord, when our fear becomes greater than our faith, help us to let go and trust in you.”

Because God understands.

Eric Muhr

The experience of worship

“At the heart of vital Quakerism lies the experience of worship,” Paul Anderson writes in one of several short essays in Meet the Friends. “The Holy Spirit is constantly speaking and drawing us to God, so the question is not whether the Spirit will speak…the question is ‘will we listen?’”

In Quaker Meeting for Worship, Douglas Steere describes how he listens: “The first thing that I do is close my eyes and then still my body in order to get it as far out of the way as I can. Then I still my mind and let it open to God in silent prayer, for the meeting, as we understand it, is the meeting place of the worshiper with God. I thank God inwardly for this occasion, for the week’s happenings, for what I have learned at God’s hand, for my family, and the work there is to do. I often pause to enjoy this presence.”

Out of the silence, there may come vocal ministry, when one Friends stands – or sometimes several – to share a song, a scripture, a reflection, a story – whatever it is that the Spirit has prompted. In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Maurice Roberts speaks of a time God’s answer for his need was “immeasurably more ... than I could have orchestrated.”

Cleta Crisman writes in her introduction to this quarter’s collection of devotional readings in Fruit of the Vine that we may be hesitant to speak because of personal pain, because of vulnerability or fear. But she encourages us to share “from that space. It’s where we all really live so much of the time; we need one another to hold up our hands, to create a safe place for God to open our eyes, and to help us carry ... the limitations of our own humanness.”

And Steere continues: “When I feel drawn to share something in the quiet meeting for worship, I simply rise and say it as briefly as I know how, seeking ever to keep close to the root and to avoid all vain and distracting ornamentation. The other worshipers often do not raise their heads or open their eyes. If they feel in unity with what I have shared and if it speaks to the condition of the meeting, out of which it sprang, then it becomes a seed for their meditation. If it does not, they pay little attention to it and continue in their own worship.”

This morning, I’m taking some time to listen for the Spirit who is constantly speaking. I’m pausing in the early morning light to enjoy God’s presence. I’m paying attention to the places where I feel fear, vulnerability, or pain. And I pray that in each of my interactions today, I might say as briefly as I know how whatever it is I’ve been given to share.

Maybe you might join me, wherever you are. I think this goes better when we’re in it together.

Eric Muhr