God’s Gift of the Five Senses
Part 2: Smell
“Please, Dad, can I smell too?” Cecilia asked as I open the bag of whole bean coffee. It was 7:30am and my 4-year-old wanted to get a whiff of the smell that has been energizing people for centuries. “Of course, you can.” I said to my daughter, as I lowered the coffee to her height. She inhaled deeply through her nose, looked up at me, and said, “That smells amazing!” Of course, you can’t hear the way she said “amazing,” but imagine the way someone would say it if she had just seen the aurora borealis for the first time. She was in awe of the smell!
What gets your sniffer working? Take a few moments to think about what smells bring you joy and what memories those scents take you back to. Perhaps, it is the smell of freshly brewed coffee or freshly mowed grass. Maybe it’s the aroma of a certain perfume or flower.
Smells can conjure up all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and reactions. From the good, the bad and the ugly. Smells can function like a time machine and bring us back decades to a memory we had long forgotten. As one author put it aptly, we are often, “smelling memories.” Scents remind us of specific times, places, and people.
As a child, spending time with grandpa was always a momentous occasion. He’d take me down to the basement to watch tv, drink a coke, and play with his practice putter and green. I didn’t know anyone else with a practice green in their basement, so I thought that was so cool. I also remember he and his basement had a distinct smell. I didn’t know what the smell was, but whenever I smelt it, I knew it was grandpa. As I got older, I learned that the smell that brings me back to those memories is the smell of tobacco and cigars. Grandpa often hosted his buddies for poker nights and they always smoked in his basement.
In the Old Testament, if it wasn’t for a smell, then there is no telling what might have happened to Jacob. Taking advantage of his aging father, Jacob dressed up like his older brother hoping to steal the family blessing. The blessing always went to the eldest in the family, but Jacob’s plan was simple: disguise himself as his big bro, cook Dad his favorite soup, and ask dad for the blessing. Dad wouldn’t be any the wiser because his eyesight was all but gone. So, Jacob threw on some of his brother’s old clothes and put some animal fur on his arms, hoping to appear like his burley brother. The only problem was dad wasn’t so easily fooled. When he heard his son speaking, he swore it was Jacob, but when he felt his son’s arms, he felt the hairiness of his oldest son. Still not willing to give up so easy, he waited for his son to kiss him and he caught a whiff of his clothing. Only then was he certain who stood before him. He said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” So, Jacob’s conniving plan worked because his stench passed the test.
I’m not encouraging any of us to follow in the footsteps of Jacob, but it serves as an example that smells have the power to identify; to immediately remind us of loved ones or favorite places.
Saint Paul reminded one of his churches that they give off an aroma of their own. He said that the way they were transformed by Jesus is a sweet scent to God. I wonder how I might smell to God? Do I smell more like a conniving Jacob or like a loving Jesus?
The truth is we smell countless fragrances each day, but we are often too busy to notice them. Smell is a powerful gift, but one we don’t always take advantage of. Perhaps, you can slow down at some point today and pay attention to the aromas in the air. What do those smells remind you of? How are they helping you be present in this moment? Allow each feeling and memory to enter in without judgment and offer a prayer or blessing over it, then continue on with your day. Perhaps, the next thing you smell will be “amazing!”
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson