The promise brought in by time is hardly ever known beforehand, and even if it were we wouldn’t have the slightest idea what the promise meant. We can’t know until it’s time to know, and we can’t be healed until we’re ready, really. Healing becomes available, but time brings the promise. We can attempt to rush it if we want to, but we’re likely swinging in the dark.
Rev. Becca Stevens’ most recent book, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling captivated me earlier this year (as written about here). While reading this book, I knew that one of my very closest friends would soon be ordained in November, and I also knew that he was learning more about what it means to anoint those we love, those who are hurting, those who are dying, and those who are wandering with oil.
I love the notion that anointing with oil is a kind of prayer made physical. We put our hands and fingers in oil, smear it on the flesh of those we desperately want something better for, and then hold out hope that Jesus wasn’t killing time when he said that we would take on the kind of life-bringing and truth-telling that he had been doing. We pause for a moment as flesh and flesh separated only by a thin space of an ancient substance. And somewhere in that thin space rests the deep hope and the breath-stealing promise that God shows up when we come together and ask him to.
So we know we don’t know what we’re doing, but like most things worth doing at all, when we show up and do them even while admitting that we are fumbling our holy way through something we don’t understand, God shows up.
Of course God was already there.
Of course healing isn’t buried in the molecules of oils.
But God shows up in a way that he hadn’t already,
and we even become bold to ask him to in ways we hadn’t already.
And so I woke up early the morning of his ordination, pulled out the random collection of olive oil, essential oils and Shea butter, and headed toward the stove. Fumbling over a pan and these tiny bottles that feel like tools I don’t know how to use, I followed Stevens’ recipe for anointing oil. That is, I followed it until I decided I wanted to change amounts and add other things.
Slowly the kitchen started filling up with the scents of rose pedals, grapefruit, rosemary, olives, bergamot, and lemon. I stood over the stove, noting how time has passed and the truth is a little clearer and healing has come at its own damn speed no matter how much I was ready for it to hurry up, and watched a tear drop into the oil.
Even while making my first batch of oil, without anointing and without meaning to pray, God shows up and reminds me that all this time, through the two years waiting to know what promise was on the other side of waiting in grief, I reminded of a the words a friend prayed over me two years ago in Cape Town while pushing in on my chest: “God is holding your heart, Don. He wants you to know this. And he is shaping it. And he is thrilled at what it is becoming. And when you think he is not paying attention, I pray you will remember that he is holding your heart in his hands. He will push and prod and squeeze, but he is perfectly gentle and perfectly stern. And it is his hands that your heart is held.”
Those words came at a moment when the ground was cracking open and I was most unsure where to stand. I see now that the sky was cracking open as well, and my heart has been in very good hands through all the cracking. And the promise is a little clearer now on the other side of waiting things out.
I gave my friend the small jar with the few ounces of oil in the parking lot after the ceremony, stumbling over words about a gift and an experience and process that has been years in the making. That bottle made it to a worship service the next morning, was used to first pray a blessing over his daughter, then to pray words over those being confirmed. Those being confirmed happened to include not only people I have grown to love, but also people who have loved me and walked with me over these last two years.
Just as the scent of the oil filled the space, the reminder that if I’m willing to stumble my way through things I don’t fully understand while asking God to show up, he is good and ready to do so. And he is holding on to our hearts. And he is breaking them over the things that break his very own. And we are, all of us, stumbling toward healing in one way or another. And we can only stumble toward it in the company of others. And we can’t be in a hurry.
Well, we can be in a hurry, but it’s a waste.
Healing always comes.
Pine Tree Dr.
An Unspeakable Honor
So We Wait