Opening a channel

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” -James 5:13-14

IMG_1914This jar of anointing oil sometimes sits behind the Rainbow pulpit, sometimes in my car, and sometimes in the Rainbow pastor’s office. It was gifted to me by a good friend after I anointed her and her stillborn son in a time of anguished, sorrowful prayer I won’t soon forget. That time together and this jar continues to be a gift that keeps on giving. Not only have I anointed others using this jar of oil, when I’m feeling particularly anxious or sad, I dab a little of the lavender scented oil on the palm of my hand. I don’t know why exactly, although I can relate to a Rainbow member who recently said that for her, anointing with oil, “opens a channel.” Beautiful.

The Church of the Brethren folks know a thing or two about the power of anointing, having kept that biblical tradition alive in so many beautiful ways. In the Church of the Brethren Minister’s Manual, anointing is described as a ritual that helps us consider the interdependence of the mind, soul and body. It is written: “Certain possibilities for health open up when a biblical teaching and healing rite with historical roots are lived out in a congregational setting…Anointing with oil for healing is a means of God’s grace and blessing intended to bring restoration and wholeness.”

I share this because I plan to have this jar of lavender oil with me at the Rainbow Longest Night/Winter Solstice Service on Thursday, December 21. During the time of candle lighting, when people will be invited to come forward to light candles, I will stand off to the side and offer a dab of oil on the palm for those who long to “open a channel” toward greater wholeness. (Olive oil is so often used in anointing because the olive branch has long symbolized reconciliation and wholeness.)

Anointing of course is not the only way one can open a channel to God. Acts of charity and hospitality, singing, silent contemplation, studying scripture—these all can be described as channel openers.

The anointing words I will share tomorrow night are simple: “May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, my prayer is that as we seek to open channels to God, we will become channels of God’s mercy and compassion in the world.

I end this post with one of many blessings that will be shared during the Longest Night Service at 7 pm on Thursday. Hope you can join us.

Blessing for a Whole Heart by Jan Richardson

You think
if you could just
imagine it,
that would be a beginning;
that if you could envision
what it would look like,
that would be a step
toward a heart
made whole.

This blessing
is for when
you cannot imagine.
This is for when
it is difficult to dream
of what could lie beyond
the fracture, the rupture,
the cleaving through which
has come a life
you do not recognize
as your own.

When all that inhabits you
feels foreign,
your heart made strange
and beating a broken
and unfamiliar cadence,
let there come
a word of solace,
a voice that speaks
into the shattering,

reminding you
that who you are
is here,
every shard
somehow holding
the whole of you
that you cannot see
but is taking shape
even now,
piece joining to piece
in an ancient,
remembered rhythm

that bears you
not toward restoration,
not toward return—
as if you could somehow
become unchanged—
but steadily deeper
into the heart of the one
who has already dreamed you


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