At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
In 1948, my father, a Foreign Service Officer, was assigned to the American Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. These were the early days of long distance air travel, so our family of five traveled by ship from New York on a voyage that lasted almost a month, putting in at a number of Mediterranean ports before arriving at our destination. We had spent a couple of days each in Genoa and Naples exchanging cargo and were headed south for a nighttime passage through the fabled Strait of Messina. I remember going to bed that night with the chug of the ship’s diesels in my ear and memories of recent explorations.
At about three in the morning, my father woke us up. “Boys,” he said, “you’ve got to get up and see this.” “Aw, Dad,” we replied rather grumpily. “Can’t we just sleep?” “No, put on some clothes and come up on deck. I’ve got something to show you.” Most reluctantly, we did so, and when we got up to the rail, we saw we were passing the conical island of Stromboli. The three-thousand-foot volcano was erupting in a mass of flames and smoke in the moonlight, with molten lava pouring down its flanks. Hot rocks and ashes hurled upward looked like sparks in the distance. The undersides of nearby clouds were illuminated a ghostly red.
In the days before video documentaries would make such spectacles seem commonplace, it was a vivid sight I carry with me to this day, some seventy years later, and I often wonder how close I came to missing it. Are we open to new experiences beyond our comfort zones when there is no one there to prod us? What else do we miss for want of a little extra effort? Where do we fail to see the awe and mystery of new life and substance in God’s creation?
Appointed readings for today: Genesis 17:1-8, Psalm 105:4-11, John 8:51-59