“Insight and Reality,” from The Unveiling of the Eternal Word (1897).
When the call comes, a difference, a distinction is at once apparent…They all have their lamps; they ought all to have the oil, but the foolish ones have none. For the meaning of the lamp, look to our Lord’s own word: “The lamp of the body is the eye,” the inner vision. “When thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light.” Have you taken care to keep your inner vision prepared and trimmed by prayer and meditation? Has your oil, the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit failed? Nearly every woman has the gift of insight, but she may not have it for those things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard;” so she may be all unready, not having trained herself to see the reality, to answer the summons to awake, the call to go forth to meet the Bridegroom.
There are times in our own lives when we are summoned forth to meet the Bridegroom. There comes such a time when some fresh manifestation of truth, some new vision of Christ is made clear to the soul; there was such a time, my daughters in Christ, when your hearts were first stirred by a desire to give yourselves more entirely to him, and especially when you became conscious of your own “call” to the dedicated life.
There comes a day when we have to know, or we fail to know the things which belong to our peace. We have the opportunity to see our rest and peace under the wings of the Almighty, in the life of the bride. If we fail to see, the opportunity passes.
The foolish virgins appeal to the wise ones, “Give us of your oil.” Alas! No one can give the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit if the soul has refused preparation and training beforehand. When the crisis comes, there is no oil to spare. There is no power of making over to another that result of their own previous preparation which makes the lamp ready. It cannot be manufactured then just because of the need, or even because of the desire for it. They who were ready went in, and the door was shut.
It may be that, when the Lord comes, in any way or at any crisis either to judgment on the Church or individually to the soul, we shall not be engaged actually at that particular moment in any distinctively religious occupation. But has there been care to prepare? Have advantages and opportunities been used? Have you the oil, the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit giving insight and thoughtfulness, power to see the unseen, to see behind all temporal catastrophes the beauty and majesty of God, and the reality of the kingdom which cannot be shaken?
Allan Beecher Webb (1839-1907) was an English cleric who served as Bishop of Bloemfontein and of Grahamstown, in South Africa. He oversaw the planting of mission churches in the diamond fields of central South Africa and helped to establish and strengthen several religious orders. One of these was the Community of the Resurrection of Our Lord in Grahamstown, an order of nuns devoted to teaching. The passage above is excerpted from a retreat meditation he gave to the sisters. He resigned his episcopate in 1899, returning to Britain, where he served as provost of Inverness Cathedral and dean of Salisbury.