My friend, Charles Harris, has Stage 4 Mesothelioma Cancer – a cancer typically found in people aged 60-70+ who’ve worked many years in careers such as mining, with high exposure to asbestos. Charles is my age, married, with two boys just a little older than my two girls.
With my vial of scented-oil, I formed the shape of a cross on his forehead with my fingers, put a hand on him, and prayed. It wasn’t magical, but it was certainly very holy, and very human … two things which are almost always intertwined.
A couple of things struck me.
First – it is physical. You touch. While much of faith is often (too often?) internal or intangible, anointing with oil is not. And because of this, the moment is deeply human. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the entire point of faith is to help us get better at being human. (If you’re faith isn’t making you a better human, it isn’t worth holding). And so, even if my prayers do nothing to impact his cancer, the moment created a space where we shared humanity with one another. And that is worth it many times over.
Second – unexpectedly, my first thought upon administering the oil was this: Thousands of people have participated in this very act, over thousands of years, spanning every culture that has ever lived … all with the same hope. That somehow we might invoke the presence and intervention of the Divine. The moment felt timeless and strangely connected with all of human history.
I called Charles to ask his permission to share this story, which he granted, and then he thanked me again for anointing him and praying for him.
But I had to return the thanks, because the moment helped me too. It helped me become a bit better at being human.