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COVID Shots, Olive Oil & Prayer

COVID Shots, Olive Oil & Prayer April 5, 2021

John Frederick Lewis, “And the Prayer of Faith Shall Save the Sick,” 1872 {{PD-US-expired}}

It was a good thing I had followed the nurse’s instructions and sat down after getting my second dose of the COVID vaccine Saturday afternoon. My eyes welled up with tears, as I sat still. No, the tears did not result from the shot, but from having read a moving text I had just received from Pastor Tom Schiave.

Pastor Tom had just left my son Christopher’s hospital room. Christopher is in a coma resulting from a traumatic brain injury. Given COVID restrictions, the hospital allows only one visitor per day. Tom prayed over my son, anointing his head with oil in keeping with Holy Scripture’s instructions:

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16; NIV)

Tom wrote in his text that Christopher was breathing well and looked restful. He added:

I took some olive oil and placed the sign of the cross on his forehead, after which I prayed for him and for our Father to heal him and raise him up. I told the attending nurse that when I stroked Christopher’s forehead his eyes respond by blinking a bit. I stopped for a brief time and then did it again. His eyes responded again. When I told the nurse about this he said, “Excellent!” Before I left, I thanked Christopher for the honor of doing his wedding and prayed for him again. It was a privilege to be near him.

I can’t describe clearly the sensation I felt when reading this text, just like I couldn’t explain adequately the side effects I experienced after the first COVID vaccine. All I know moving forward is that I am thankful to have received both doses. I am even more thankful that I have received dose after dose after dose of people’s prayers, meditations, and caring thoughts for Christopher and our entire family.

The nurse administering the COVID shot Saturday afternoon said I tensed up, just as she gave me the jolt. While I was supposed to remain relaxed, it’s not always easy when a needle penetrates your flesh. She added that at least I had a good reflex motion, which is what you would want if you’re protecting yourself.

Many of us are quick to tense up, always feeling like we have to protect ourselves. It’s as if we’ve been so damaged by all the hardships in life that we’ve endured that we cannot discern when someone is simply trying to care for us.

Sometimes Christopher tenses up and “postures” as a result of the brain damage, perhaps in response to medical staff touching his face or repositioning him to guard against bed sores. On such occasions, he will draw his hands and arms inward and upward, as if to protect himself. One of his nurses said such posturing movements (decorticate) convey an advance over the kind of posturing he manifested previously. Then he would extend his arms down, straight at his sides, and turn his stiff arms and clenched hands outward in one motion. That form of posturing (decerebrate) appears to have ceased. Even the less severe form of posturing appears to be decreasing. These are positive signs, perhaps conveying some limited measure of healing, according to a few hospital medical staff and our medical consultant, Dr. Robert Potter.

From what I gather, Christopher did not tense up or posture when Pastor Schiave made the sign of the cross with olive oil on his forehead, as he prayed for my son. Christopher’s eyes only responded by blinking each time Tom touched his forehead. We pray for healing. We pray that Christopher will open his eyes and rise up.

I pray that the rest of us will heal relationally. May we do less and less posturing, tensing up even when someone is trying to care for us. Yes, there will be times when our reflexes take over and we need to protect ourselves from harm. But we also need to allow trustworthy others to wipe away the grime that collects on our faces and souls throughout the day and who reposition us to guard against the breakdown of our already thin skin.

A pandemic of hopelessness, indifference, cruelty, and hate manifests itself throughout the world. But faith and hope and love are also present, shooting through the skies, pricking hearts during divine visitations involving olive oil and prayer, around family devotion times at morning and evening prayer, during public worship, and in people’s heavenward and humane thoughts, mediations, and sacrificial demonstrations of care. Thank you for making it possible for me not to tense up and posture, as I craft these reflections that are cathartic for me. Our hearts and hands are joined from across the spectrum. Blest be the ties that bind. Blest be the souls that heal.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author of numerous works, including Evangelical Zen: A Christian's Spiritual Travels with a Buddhist Friend and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse. You can read more about the author here.

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