Growing Consciousness: Drops of Oil
I’m about to share with you one of the less enlightened moments of my life. Five years ago a really good friend of mine traveled half-way across the country to help me out after my third child was born. This friend and I did not share similar religious beliefs, but we could spend hours discussing any topic, including religion. At this particular time, my friend was starting to reach a level of consciousness that I had not obtained yet. In my unconscious state I made a self-righteous remark to her that we can’t both be right, so either her heaven is real or mine is.
The arrogant way in which I said this shut down any productive and loving conversation we could have had at that moment. But love wasn’t as important to me as being right. I needed to be right! My whole world construct depended on it. At the same time, something deep within me told me that I was wrong, that my need to be right at all costs was wrong. I felt sorrow for what I had said. I felt the same emotions that I can imagine the five virgins felt, being left out of the wedding feast. Looking back, I realize that this was one of the bridegroom moments of my life, and I was not prepared to enter the feast.[box] Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them; but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh(1).[/box]
It’s a familiar enough parable, and the interpretation is simple, right? If you read your scriptures, pray, and go to church, you will fill your lamp with oil (a testimony). If you continue to fuel your testimony, then you will be ready for that great day when Christ comes again. Then the righteous will enter into the feast with Christ and those who were lazy about developing their testimonies will be cast out.
Recently I was reading in a book called “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle and he had a different interpretation for this parable. He compared the oil in the lamps to consciousness and the bridegroom feast to enlightenment(2). I love that idea of the oil being consciousness, rather than testimony. The problem with the Mormon idea of testimony is that we want to make it into an unshakable certainty that we have the exact truth, yet we are so afraid of losing our testimonies in a moment of carelessness. This doesn’t feel like God’s way of giving light that grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” Consciousness on the other hand is continual progress. It is the process of waking up, of receiving line upon line, of seeing beyond your own experience and understanding. Consciousness means that you are beginning to see things from the perspective of “the other.” It is consciousness that fuels the light within us so that we will be ready for the bridegroom moments in our lives.
I don’t think this parable is about the grand moment when Christ will physically come again. Later in the same passage in Matthew, He says, “Verily I say unto you, verily inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me(3).” This makes it seem like the parable is not about His second coming, but about our daily interactions with our fellow humans. Christ comes into our lives in the form of people we interact with. He gives us many opportunities to interact with people who are different from us and to gain consciousness, filling our lamps, so that we can enter the feast of love and enlightenment.
I think we can all sympathize with the tragic moment when the five virgins are kept from the feast because of their lack of oil. I felt this sympathy and sadness a few weeks ago when I read about the Idaho State Senate in the news. They had a guest chaplain from the Hindu faith come to offer the opening prayer for the session. He gave a beautiful prayer about selflessness and peace in both English and sanscrit. However, three of the senators wouldn’t come onto the floor until the prayer was over. One of them is quoted giving her reason for not being there: “Hindu is a false faith with false gods. I think it’s great that Hindu people can practice their religion but since we’re the Senate, we’re setting an example of what we, Idaho believe.”
My sadness over this story stems from the fact that I understand what these senators are missing. They are living out the tragic story of the five virgins who were not conscious enough to enter the feast of enlightenment. The Hindu chaplain’s response to this was, “We don’t mind. Hinduism is more embracing. Most of them welcomed me. They came out and shook my hand—some of them hugged me. It was good. There are multiple viewpoints…That is what makes the country great, you know? Different viewpoints.” I can’t help but see Christ’s parable clearly illustrated in these words. Those who were conscious were able to partake of the feast of love and diversity. They shared in another person’s sacred way of communing with God and they were uplifted by it.
However, I can’t condemn the senators who were not ready for the feast, because a lack of oil in my own lamp has also kept me from entering the feast of enlightenment. The day I made my less than thoughtful remark to my friend, I received a drop of oil. Somehow deep inside, my soul was awakening to the fact that I was missing something. Like the five virgins, I knew that I was keeping myself outside of something great. Since then my consciousness has grown, and I have found the feast to be beyond anything I could imagine. It is a feast of truth, love, and enlightenment, rich with a variety of experiences and rituals. It may have more than one God and more than one heaven, but the unity between fellow humans somehow makes it seem less important to have the exact truth about eternity.
I am much more aware now of the bridegroom moments in my life, but I am still not always conscious enough to be ready for the feast. We tend to be so hard on the five virgins, but we are all in their position many times in our lives. I can honor the moments in my life when I speak or act in a less conscious way because those moments are usually the beginning of my ever growing consciousness.
1. Matthew 25:1-13
2. Tolle, Eckhart; The Power of Now, pg. 95
3. Matthew 25:40