Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’

“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’
For This Old World Is Almost Gone”

Traditional- Attributed to, and Recorded by: Blind Willie Johnson (1928), Reverend Gary Davis (1956), and Mississippi Fred McDowell (1959) Like all Traditional songs, the lyrics vary between performers and in written versions

Lately I find myself singing this old gospel/blues tune a lot. It is based on a parable from the book of Matthew (25: 1-13) often called “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins (section) by Phoebe Traquair, Mansfield Traquair Church, Edinburgh.

The story goes that there were 10 bridesmaids awaiting the coming of a groom to escort them to a marriage feast. After being delayed, the groom finally arrives at midnight to collect them. (They are all sleeping due to the late hour) Five of the women have their oil lamps well supplied with oil ( and wicks trimmed!) and are ready to go with him. But the other five have to go out to the store to purchase oil for their lamps and so aren’t ready to go when the groom appears. As their “punishment” they are shut out of the wedding feast.

The Wise and Foolish VirginsWilliam Blake, 1826 Tate Gallery

The parable is an admonition to “be ready” of course. It was a wildly popular religious theme during the Middle Ages as evidenced by its influence in Gothic art. Paintings and sculptures of the Ten Virgins decorate numerous churches and cathedrals all across Europe including Notre Dame in Paris and Reimes.

“Brother Don’t you Get Worried
Brother Don’t You Get Worried
Brother Don’t You Get Worried
For This Old World Is Almost Gone”

In my last blog post I wrote about adapting to the darkness when we can’t see the Light at the End of the Tunnel– specifically my personal journey of trying to get to Prague to teach. So, while waiting for the “all clear” to travel freely again, I’ve been asking myself, how can I keep my lamp trimmed and burnin’? What can I do to be ready? The only thing worse than being grounded by the global Pandemic, would be to not have used this down time wisely to prepare in every way possible for my trip.

“Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’
For This Old world Is Almost Gone”

Friedrich Wilhelm SchadowThe Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1838–1842 (detail), Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.

The most practical thing I’ve been doing is to continue learning the Czech language so that when I finally do arrive in Prague, I won’t be a total beginner. I’m also sorting through my best teaching materials and digitizing them (since I can’t travel with reams of paper), as well as creating new lessons from ideas I’ve had for a long time but have never had free time to develop. As any teacher knows, putting all this together is extremely time consuming and virtually impossible to do when you are actually teaching!

But let me be quick to add that while these activities are my ideal, I often fall short. My self-expectations turn into merely good intentions and I feel a lot like the woman in the picture above…….too tired to care where I last left my lamp.

Dear Readers, what have you been busy doing? How have you, and how are you keeping your lamp trimmed and burnin’? I’d love to hear from you.

I leave you with a recent recording of “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin” performed by Piedmont Blues guitar virtuoso, and my good friend, Mr. Jon Shain. Accompanying Jon on bass is another stellar musician, and equally good friend, Mr. FJ Ventre. Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’

  1. So many times I’ve heard this song, mostly performed by Shain & Ventre, and I never knew any of the history. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    • Hey Nancy, thanks for reading. One of the only good things that come from being raised and indoctrinated by “the Church” is that it gives you background knowledge of so many cultural references- art, music, literature with Biblical themes

      Like

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