Wisely Keeping Vigil, a Dark Devotional

Illustration by Brian Jocks
Illustration by Brian Jocks

 

The inarticulate moans came from a closed bedroom door at my elderly cousin’s house – not sounds of physical pain but aggravated ennui. My six-year-old-self was terrified and stayed away from the part of the house where the wails came. Ignorant and afraid, I stayed among familiar faces, and kept sound distance from that fearful noise.

My younger sister showed much more courage than I could muster and would enter the room stay there for hours at a time.

Anne was my cousin, in her fifties when I was six, who lived with her mother. She spent all day in her dimly-lit bedroom. She couldn’t function on her own: she couldn’t speak, couldn’t feed or bathe herself. Her one small joy in life, it seems to me, was rolling an inflatable plastic ball to someone in her bed.

But I was too cowardly to provide her with that, which required no great work from me. I preferred the familiar, the people in the kitchen, the “normal.” My sister shamed me in a real and permanent but ultimately positive way: if I lived only according to what I was comfortable with and what I expected, I’d live forever in shame.

*****

“For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence,
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her,
and graciously appears to them in the ways,
and meets them with all solicitude.” Wis 6:15-16

In the Bible, Wisdom seems to be readily available to all those who long for it; very unlike the bridegroom in the parable of the ten virgins, who locks the door from the virgins who weren’t ready for the bridegroom because he was late. Seems antithetical to the Prodigal’s father who welcomed his whoring and broke son back with open arms. But aren’t both the bridegroom and the father supposed to be God? Maybe it’s because to son was different from the virgins, because the son was of the father’s family, so gets special treatment. But isn’t God the personification of love? Well, maybe divine love isn’t as whole as the love we should have for everyone. (That is a terrifying thought.) And isn’t Jesus God? And isn’t Jesus the personification of wisdom itself?

I tend to think that my best-made preparations aren’t enough. I think I’ll ever be needing to buy more oil if the person I’m waiting for is late. It’s not that I only depend on my own preparedness; I hope to be someone who constantly grows and is checked by others. Being headstrong regarding what I need isn’t me, and I don’t want it to be. I think maturity…wisdom… lies in not relying on beliefs you were force-fed your entire life, but in always being open and being willing to adapt to your situation.

Kind of like being in a wheelchair. My plans don’t look the same as always, but adaptation has made them no less great and doesn’t leave me cowering and morose and crippled by anything new and unexpected.

Wisdom and love may be the same. Maybe they don’t look like solely relying on your own preparedness, or surrounding yourself with only the things you are accustomed to.

Or maybe I have this all wrong and God will lock the door to heaven and say, “I don’t know you.”

If God does, I will say the same thing back.

Sometimes wisdom is leaving what you know and what is comfortable to spend time with a bedridden lady.

Sometimes wisdom looks like rolling a fucking ball.

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