Who are the virgins? • 30 April 2008

This post follows up on questions about my reference in Monday’s post.

Like I said, the virgins keep coming back. But it’s a good haunting now. Nothing sinister.

When I was small, they were phantoms of doom. The original story, from Matthew 25, is that they were ten. Five were wise, kept their lamps trimmed and burning like in the gorgeous old spiritual that turned into a blues song: Blind Wille Johnson version, Billy Childish version.

(The way the idea of waiting for the judgement plays in to the writing of this song I do not know, but the minor chords and the keening that come through the blues version—if not the dry, domesticated hymn I sang as a kid—make me imagine it was first sung in the fields of Dixie… pointing to a whole new, and better, idea of apocalypse. The tiiime is draaawing niiiigh….)

Unlike the wise virgins, the foolish five let their lamps go out. When a “bridegroom” comes to them he takes the wise five, marries them, and takes them behind the door. But he says to the others, who had let their flames go out: Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

Or more specifically: go to hell. So the straight interpretation of the story is obvious. Watch out because the judgement day is coming and if you don’t keep working out your salvation with fear and trembling you won’t get to have sex with Jesus like you know you want to. (Jesus is always having sex with the church in the gospels, and the clean interpretation of this is that it represents spiritual union of God and his community on earth). Given all this sex, maybe the judgement day version actually isn’t cut and dried like the mainstream church would have it…

In any case, all I care about anymore is the lamps and the flames they keep. Flame is “spirit,” whatever that is, all over the world all over time.

For example, staying with the Judeo-Christian tradition, here’s something wonderful from a book I do not like (Proverbs 20:17 KJV):  

The spirit of a man (sic) is the candle of the Lord. Searching all the inward parts of the belly.

…The fire inside?

…Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

…Stay awake. 

That’s all it means.

I never thought of this simpler, more beautiful understanding of the virgins until I encountered Tolle talking about waiting as a kind if being present. It’s somewhere around page 60 of The Power of Now (which, please, is not the most amazing spiritual manifesto by a loooooooooong shot, but is interesting and a kind if inspiring so far as it goes). The satirical imp Tolle writes that the lamp’s flame is merely awareness in wait for the bridegroom of enlightenment.

Even that is more interpretation than I need, though. 

The spirit is the candle of the “Lord…” Searching all the inward parts of the belly?

“Spirit” isn’t something “out there” though when I think of the lamps now… it’s just awareness. Which is just the spark that is here if I bother to tend it. So there's not much of a story hanging on to the little flame image anymore, even if the virgins keep coming back by association.