Anointing With Oil

Historically, my faith tradition the Churches of Christ has been pretty skeptical and wary of charismatic and pentecostal impulses. The Churches of Christ have been pretty rationalistic and unemotive. Emotion, we believed, can lead you astray.

In the 80s that changed for many of our churches. In the 80s the Churches of Christ discovered the Holy Spirit and our world became a little bit more enchanted, charismatic and pentecostal. We've slowly awakened to the affective, intuitive and embodied aspects of Christian life, spirituality and worship. We're a little bit more mystical, a little bit more open to being surprised by God and led by the winds of the Spirit.

But just a little bit more. We're still a pretty tame and inhibited group.

But not so much at our local church plant Freedom Fellowship. Though a church plant sponsored by the Highland Church of Christ, Freedom Fellowship is a lot more charismatic and pentecostal. Freedom doesn't feel anything like a Church of Christ.

Freedom has an indigenous spirituality unlike anything I've experienced in the Churches of Christ. I think this is due to the fact that a lot of the people Freedom attracts--the poor and homeless--have been shaped by charismatic and pentecostal traditions, and they have imported that spirituality into the congregation. And that the poor and disenfranchised in our town are more charismatic isn't too surprising given how charismatic traditions tend to flourish in these social locations worldwide.

One of the distinctive aspects of the spirituality that has emerged at Freedom is anointing with oil. I'm not sure how typical anointing with oil is among charismatic and pentecostal churches. I do know you see anointing with oil liturgically practiced in some mainline traditions. But at Freedom the practice is more spontaneous than liturgical. So I don't know how to norm what we do at Freedom against other traditions who anoint with oil.

At Freedom we anoint with oil very regularly. If someone prays over you, and this happens a lot, very often they will anoint your head with oil before they pray. Brothers and sisters at Freedom carry oil around with them so that, if anyone needs prayer, oil is always on hand for that purpose. When I go to Freedom I grab two things, my bible and a small bottle of anointing oil. You never know when you or someone else might need it.

The first time I was ever anointed with oil, as I've written about before, was then I was at church early having driven the van bringing people to the dinner we have before every service. I was coming down with a fever and I was shaking pretty badly. Mary came up to me to see if I was okay and I told her I was coming down with a fever. Mary prayed for me and before she did, as we do a lot at Freedom, she anointed my head with oil making the sign of the cross, "In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

I'd say I was pretty well hooked at that moment. Maybe it was the fever, but I became all in with the oil thing. And reading authors like Sara Miles has helped deepen my appreciation of the practice.

Listen, I can understand any reservations you might be having about this practice. I get it. It's all a little weird and strange. Especially if you're a cerebral, skeptical sort like I am. But I love the anointing with oil culture at Freedom. I'm not sure how common or strange our practices are, but what we do fits our culture and our people.

Why am I so taken with this practice?

I think we need rituals to signify holy ground. I think we need practices of consecration and hallowing. I think we need to feel a loving touch on our face. I think we need to pray with our hands. I think we need to be marked to remember who we are. I think we need to experience grace in the tingle on the skin and the smell of incense on our foreheads. I think we need liturgies where we stand before each other, eye to eye, because very rarely at church do we stand so close. Rarely have I anointed anyone without crying. And I think we need to look at each other and cry a little bit more at the beauty of it all.

You might not anoint with oil where you worship. And introducing the practice into your world might be a little too weird.

But there is a wisdom here. A way of seeing each other. A way of praying. A way of loving.

Explore it if you can.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

10 thoughts on “Anointing With Oil”

  1. I grew up in a charismatic, pentecostal-type church and your churches use of oil as you described it falls pretty solidly in line with my experience. They also anointed houses and apartments, I think as a re-enactment of Exodus, if you moved into a new one or found yourself 'under oppression' in your current.

  2. I was asked once to pray over a brother using anointing oil that he provided. The elders felt it should be private so we went to another part of the building with only four of us present. The elders thought the ritual would be okay given that this was only a private request by a member who was suffering from organic brain syndrome. I remember he had a towel he brought to catch any drippage. Good thing too, not having any experience with this, I think I used half of the bottle.
    There are many rituals in our traditional services, some of which cannot be explained. For example, when immersing someone, the preacher raises his right hand up in the air. I've never found anyone who knows what that means. Also it is amusing that the preacher bows his head when he starts "I now baptize you in the name of…." And members will also bow their heads even though it is not a prayer. The only thing resembling a prayer is the final "amen."

  3. I sense a link with your thought on prayer: "Sometimes the only response to such news is to pray." ** Quoting from memory, so may be off ***
    Sometimes I feel like I need a fresh reminder that I am a child of God. So something to enhance the sacred spaces.

    Sometimes, our only response can be "You are a child of God, let me remind you of that."

  4. Yes. Yes. "And I think we need to look at each other and cry a little bit more at the beauty of it all." Love this.

  5. I offer anointing by oil every week during the offering before communion in my congregation. It has gradually swelled from a handful of people to a long line that keeps the organist playing several minutes longer than she used to.

  6. We anoint at our church all the time during healing prayer, to bless and commission, and with the dying. There's also the Orthodox tradition of anointing on Holy Wednesday "for the healing of soul and body"

  7. Awesome post Richard! I lead a prayer ministry at our church where we anoint with oil as we pray for the other coming for prayer. Beautiful!

Leave a Reply