I knelt down to pray before lunch, which is a relatively new thing I’m doing, and I made sure to thank God for graces given before asking Him for more stuff (this is also new), and as I prayed there on my kitchen floor, I felt a whisper in my heart. It said:
Grace is oil.
Though the phrase is a bit odd, my spirit understood it immediately and I could almost feel it on my bowed head. Grace is like oil. It is not of us, it’s apart, and it seeps slowly. Oil takes a while to penetrate and even longer to saturate. It’s not like water, which can drench and soak a person to the bone in seconds. Oil is patient.
Oil is best absorbed by soft, flexible, porous materials that are capable of bending without breaking. Oil will wipe right off of a hard substance, but it will sink into cotton. During the desert experience of Lent, and actually a while before that, I felt myself getting softer and more able to receive grace. Though as I look back on that time, I would not call it so much a softening, but a breaking. As it turns out, the results are the same.
When oil fully saturates something, it is much more likely to catch a spark and burn. The resulting fire is useful; it can light a path or warm a body. It has the power to transform other materials and fuel motion. The sacredness of oil is emphasized during Holy Week, when we receive the new blessed oils of the sick, of catechumans, and chrism. These oils will be used sacramentally throughout the year to anoint the sick, to baptize babies and others, and for confirmation and ordination. That’s a lot of thumbs blessing a lot of foreheads. In our Catholic tradition, the oils all get their start at what’s called a Chrism Mass, which is attended by the Archbishop, bishops, priests, deacons, and laypeople. After the oils are blessed, they’re sent out to parishes, officially received in each place on Holy Thursday, and used throughout the year. Grace is spread by oil: person-to-person-to-person, like faith.
As grace has been poured out on me like oil in this last season, it’s taken a while to absorb, because for a long time there, I was much too hard. Too hard on myself, too hard on others, seriously hard on God. I’m softer now, not by my own merits, but because breaking has caused cracks in me that allow more grace to get in. More grace is always what we want, even if we don’t love the process while we’re walking through it. I know that now. See, grace!
The more oily with grace I become, the more likely I am to catch a divine spark and be a light for others. I want this. In these early Easter days, I am tending the small fire inside of me, allowing in air and oil, and letting God do with it what He will. One thing I know now: it’s going to be good.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows,” (Psalm 23:5).