Oil For My Lamp
Somehow, I managed to get out of bed and into church, driving and walking through heavy cold to get there.
My pastor preached on the Gospel reading from the lectionary that week, the story of the 10 virgins (sometimes translated to bridesmaids, or wedding attendants).
This story has always appealed to the try-hard person inside of me. The wise ones in this story are the girl scouts, the ones who are prepared with extra oil at the ready. They are the ones who are welcomed in to the marriage feast by the Bridegroom.
I have always done my best to be counted among them.
But this sermon was not like the sermons I’d heard about this story in my youth. My pastor did not adjure her congregation to try harder and do more.
Instead, she told us that after sitting with this passage for some time, she had come to the conclusion that the wisdom of those lauded in this story was not in the fact that they were self-sufficient, but rather that they recognized their need for external support. These people were not storing up oil in their basements, ready for the zombie apocalypse. They were drawing fuel because they needed it. They were regulars in the market place.
My therapist often reminds me that I can’t count on people to make me happy. I can’t look to them to have my needs met.
This is true.
But still I have this lamp, and it’s running on empty.
Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning. Give me oil for my lamp, I pray.
In my church, we have a font near the altar. On the way to take communion, many of us dip our fingers into the water, a way of remembering our baptism.
After our sermon on the 10 virgins, I went forward and dipped my fingers in, as usual.
They came up oily.
I took my bread and wine, the Body and Blood, and went to find a tissue for my greasy fingers.
Later, we realized that the anointing oil from last week’s baptisms (and my membership commitment) must have spilled into the font.
At the end of worship, my pastor dips her hands deeply into the font for a final blessing. This week, she was confused and slick, but still smiling.
Later, I texted her, asking for prayers in the midst of my dark moments.
I wish oil in our font worked magic to banish such things, she said.
I wish that, too.
I have long struggled against needing external help. Friends and family have let me down, and sometimes God seems not to hear my prayers, or to be choosing not to answer them.
I have been like those foolish virgins, refusing to admit my need for oil, outside of myself.
No wonder the darkness reaches in.
I’m not saying that more prayer, or more friends, or more honesty with God and people will lift my depression. But I need God and people just the same.
Just one week before the oil incident, I stood before the church and made vows. They made vows, too, of support and community, and I hold tight to them in these dark moments.
There are echoes of the promises of Jesus in my ears, whispers of the Spirit in my heart.
They say: there is still hope for you.