-hummingbird in the garden -
The other day I came across a pretty well-known parable in the Christian Bible – the tale of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The parable draws upon an established wedding custom back in Jesus’ day. According to this tradition, bridesmaids would gather together and wait for the unannounced arrival of the bridegroom. When the groom showed up, he would collect the bridesmaids and take them to the wedding feast.
In this particular parable there are ten bridesmaids who are waiting throughout the night for the arrival of the groom - five bridesmaids are wise and five are foolish. The wise bridesmaids kept awake and alert throughout the night, making sure there was plenty of oil in their lamps as they sat waiting for the bridegroom; but the five foolish bridesmaids fell asleep and the oil in their lamps ran out. So they left the house and went out searching for for more oil, and while they were away, the groom appeared and gathered the five wise bridesmaids, leaving behind the absent foolish ones.
Interestingly enough, the moral of the story is: "Keep awake and always be ready because you never know when the groom (“God”) may show up;" but over time this parable has been distorted. The symbol of “keeping oil in the lamp” has often been associated with the “search for wisdom,” “the quest for enlightenment;’” but, in fact, the search for enlightenment is not really a “quest” at all. The search for wisdom is actually a condition of being ready, awake and alert, because “wisdom” shows up at the most unexpected times.
When I was out walking yesterday, I thought about this wonderful parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Lots of people come out to the desert to find “God,” to seek deeper truth, greater wisdom, the meaning of life. They come out into the wilderness for various sorts of spiritual retreats - they sometimes come here to be alone, often to spend time in solitude, prayer and meditation. More often than not, people come here armed with books and journals, they say all sorts of prayers and they fill their minds with ideas about how they will conduct their soul-searching quest. Looking for God is hard work and serious business.
But the lesson of the desert is that you rarely find wisdom by looking for it - you go into a desert and wait for wisdom to come to you.
Almost every morning I go out into my meditation garden for a daily period of quiet time. I intentionally place my chair so that it is positioned directly facing a hummingbird feeder hanging in our garden. When I first sit down, the hummingbirds are nowhere to be seen as they wait in the bushes and trees until I am sitting quietly. But if I wait patiently, it’s almost inevitable that within a few minutes I will hear the flutter of wings as the tiny birds and other assorted creatures make their way to the feeder and the fountain – a source of endless entertainment for me.
As I sit and wait for those hummingbirds to show up every morning, I am regularly reminded of something the Quaker teacher and author, Parker Palmer, once observed:
The human soul is essentially shy – just like a wild animal,
it will flee from the crowd and seek safety in the underbrush.
If we want to see a wild animal we know that the last thing we should do
is to go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.
But if we walk quietly into the wilderness and sit at the base of a tree,
breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings,
the wild creature we seek will eventually show up.
Lots of people today are engaged in some sort of soul-searching journey, a spiritual quest for meaning and truth, a serious and concerted effort to find “God” in their lives and more often than not people think of their “spiritual quest” as some sort of “Hide and Seek” game in which “God” is hiding and the soul is seeking. Maybe the opposite is true - on a spiritual quest, “God” is the one who is doing the seeking and all we need do is to be ready when "God" shows up.
I am reminded of a wonderful Zen saying:
When you look for the ‘way,’ you become far from it.
When you seek the ‘way’ you turn away from it all the more.
Today I want to be sure there is plenty of oil in the lamp of my life as I sit and watch and wait in the wilderness throughout the dark hours of night. With oil in my lamp I want to always stay awake and be alert so that whenever wisdom appears or love flashes in the everyday moments of my everyday life, I will be ready to accept the invitation to come to the banquet.