Every Sunday, my father, who was a minister, got up early to shine his shoes and iron his shirt. He put on his best suit and always let me pick out his tie. Without fail, he’d tuck a tiny antique bottle full of olive oil inside his coat pocket.
Once I asked him why he always carried it because he rarely anointed anyone. But, that was just my father. He was always ready, especially when it came to prayer.
Anointed With Oil For Healing
Last Sunday, for the first time in all the many years I’ve attended my church our pastor announced that someone in the congregation had requested he anoint* him with oil and pray for his healing. He extended the invitation to everyone. He encouraged anyone in need of healing or wanting to be anointed on behalf of someone else who needed healing to come to the altar. I was surprised as a few dozen people in the sea of 2,000+ went forward. Most of them were elderly.
I immediately felt that dreadful nudging in my spirit to be anointed with oil on behalf of my father who has Alzheimer’s. I say dreadful because I really hate stepping out even though I seem to do it quite often on this blog.
While at the altar, a pastor anointed me. I asked him to pray for healing for my father along with my brother-in-law who suffered a stroke in June, and my brother who lost a kidney to cancer last fall.
That same afternoon, I took the kids by to see my dad at the nursing home. When I walked in the room he asked who the little guy was and I told him Sullivan, and then asked if this was Sully. When I told him I was Jenni, he looked at me like I was an impostor. I’ve come to hate that look.
Pain and Magical Potions
I wasn’t anointed with oil on Sunday because I thought it might serve as some magical potion that would put my father in full remembrance of me. I was anointed as an act of faith and obedience. My father is in pain, and only God knows the difference these prayers have made, because, as you know, my father still looks at me like a lying fool, and he’s too weak to take me on and confront the awful trick I am playing on him claiming to be Jenni and all.
I’ve said it before. It bears repeating. I’ve read all those books about why bad things happen to good people. I’ve read The Shack. I’ve read Kushner. I’ve read the Bible. I probably have as many college hours in theology and religion as I do in journalism and history. I understand how suffering came to be part of life. I understand how God can work pain out for our own good. We need only look to lepers to understand how disastrous it can be to take no agony in walking on shards of glass. I understand we are all dying, some of us faster than others, but we are all still dying.
Why Do We Get Sick and Suffer?
And, still I wonder on occasion, why did my Dad have to get sick? Why couldn’t he be pulling on his bright blue cardigan every morning and taking my son for a walk? It would have brought him so much joy in these later years, and instead, we all missed it, and I miss it still, and my father spends most of his days staring up at the ceiling. I have no idea the concoction of thoughts swirling in his mind.
And, then. Last week. We all had the dreadful wonder of who killed Annie Le. Despite everything I know, that flawed question flashed across my mind like an electrical storm on 8mm film. The top edge of my thoughts perforated as spools of faith and doubt were flipped and swapped. Why do I expose myself to the pain of others? I might as well channel surf away to something more pleasant like football or HGTV.
But, tell me. Did you wonder, too? About Annie.
Sometimes, it feels like we must suspend reality for the heritage of faith to endure. But, that’s just it, our faith must be greater than our heritage.
There is no amount of pain my father would not have tried to save me from if he could have, but there were limitations on what he could do. He could not save me from a tumble at age 6 that dislocated my elbow. He could not save me from an accident that same year that nearly cut my Achilles tendon in two, and he couldn’t prevent the motorcycle accident that nearly took my brother’s life more than 20 years ago. He wept uncontrollably.
Why – why – why could Annie Le just not have gone to the lab that day?
Why Bother Praying?
I understand the theology of why God put limitations on himself. When people are healed from cancer, we say, we prayed and God has answered prayer. But, when we lose someone to a dreadful disease do we tell ourselves we prayed and God just said no?
I can’t explain the mystery of prayer, only that I believe we pray to know God, and when we know Him the answers to everything else become more obvious.
But, where was God when Annie was dying? I resent myself for asking these questions. We can be annoyed with me together. I know myself well, and that it is better if I ask myself where Love was when she left this life. Then, the answer comes easy.
Love was weeping uncontrollably.
Oklahoma Bombing Memorial Statue
There is a statue situated between St. Joseph’s Catheral and the National Memorial in Oklahoma City. It is Jesus and he is covering his face and the Scripture below it is the one I learned in 1977 in Vacation Bible School, Kermit, Texas. The shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept.
If you’re ever passing through Oklahoma City you must stop and see this statue. And, if you live here, well then, you know.
*Scripture reference for use of oils can be found in Exodus 30:22-25 and James 5:14