I felt bruised when I walked into the sanctuary. I could feel it in my posture, arms wrapped tight across my chest. It had been a difficult week, and I longed for the things of home. Simple things like my coffee mug and the window in my bedroom that faced the mountains and let in the rustling sound of leaves. More complex things like the kind words of friends who knew me and believed the best of me and could tell by my crossed arms that I was frayed.
I slipped into a chair in the front row. I smiled shyly at the woman next to me. She was a well-known poet whose words I had read and loved. But as I sat beside her, her sleeve brushing my arm, I felt detached and unmoored. Even as a line from one of her poems came loose from a corner of my mind, I stared hard at the floor.
“But I ache for a God my size to bring me hot chocolate, brush my hair, slip between my sheets, read to me in bed.”*
The service swirled around me, over me, near me, never through me. The poet stood at the front of the room and held a simple white bowl with a puddle of oil. I found myself standing in front of her. She placed her hand, cool and soft, on my head. She murmured words that I don’t remember, but can still feel the weight of. She dipped a finger in the oil, slid it over my forehead. Down. Across.
I walked back to my seat, and touched the spot where her smooth fingers crossed. The oil shone on my fingertips. I was surprised that it was a simple olive oil. It was neither cloying nor exotic. It was pure and rustic.
It brought me home. Standing in my bare feet in front of my stove, splashing oil into a pan from a slender glass bottle. Stirring in onions and garlic and pulling my hair back. The oil coating my fingers was what I mixed with spicy red pepper flakes and dried oregano on little white plates, served to friends with chunks of fresh bread. It was light and easy, friendships and grace.
The oil dipped with nimble fingers from an unassuming bowl was salve.
The poet came back to her seat. We all stood and sang together, the air thick with the fruity smell of olives. The song was familiar, one I had sung as a child standing between my mother and stepfather at church. But there were more verses, ones I had never sung as a little girl.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
I felt a hand slip into my mine, the same smooth fingers that had anointed my forehead moments ago.
“It’s a beautiful song, isn’t it,” she whispered, her own golden cross glowing from her forehead. I nodded. She gently squeezed my hand and then slipped out of the room.
I felt my body loosen. Arms hung , shining fingertips brushing against my side. I was ready for home–no longer as one damaged, but as one renewed.
*Omnipotence, by Luci Shaw