In my few years as a priest, I have had the privilege of anointing with oil those who desire healing for themselves or for others. Sometimes the prayer is for healing from a physical ailment; sometimes from grief, or financial struggle. The list is endless because the kinds of suffering we experience is endless.
Inherent in these requests for relief is the humbling realization that we are not in control of many things in our lives; that we seek relationship with the healing, loving, divine power many of us call “God.”
I have also anointed the foreheads of those who are breathing their last, assuring them that they are loved by God, praying for the merciful forgiveness of their sins, that they will be released from suffering, restored to wholeness, and brought into everlasting life.
These are sacred moments. Stripped of title, stripped of conventional physical beauty, stripped of all but one tenuous breath in and another tenuous breath out– pretenses drop away. Identification with power or tribe or bank account or beauty is meaningless in these moments.
I have had the honor of anointing brown skins and white skins, Republicans and Democrats, people who are gay and straight, those who are rich and poor, young and old. I have not anointed any of different faiths or no faith at all, but I would if they wanted me to.
The differentiating factors that we spend an inordinate amount of time using as ways to separate ourselves become immaterial when we are faced with the eternal equalizer–we all suffer, we all die.
Rather than causing distress, this simple truth offers clarity and urgency to finding purpose and meaning in life. If you aren’t sure what your purpose is, what would it be like to make loving whoever is in your orbit your purpose? What about offering kindness and love to the difficult teenager in your family, the neighbor who lives alone, the grocery store clerk who seems tired and stressed?
Maybe we can share with one another a bit of the grace we have all been given. Maybe we can practice dropping the pretenses now. Pledging allegiance to our shared humanity by reaching out to those we deem different than us. What if, instead of pre-judging and assuming we know what others think or believe or feel, we asked a few questions with a sincere desire to understand. What brings you joy? What do you fear? Who do you love? What do you believe?
And then, what if we were to listen devoutly, without judgment, without interruption, without imposing our own story? What if we were to listen for points of intersection, rather than points of departure?
On the precipice of a new calendar year I have hope that we can partner with the Divine to be the healing balm for one another we all desire.