The second-century saint Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is man [and woman] fully alive.” I love this idea and find that it always invites reflection. What does it mean to be fully alive? How well am I doing with that?
One thing I’ve learned is that a big part of being “fully alive” is paying attention. It’s being aware of God’s presence in the present moment, right where I already am. And I’ve found that a good way to cultivate this mindfulness is to pay attention to the five senses.
God speaks to us through what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. We know this intuitively, but to think about it consciously is a powerful form of prayer. When we’re inspired by a song on the radio, when we are moved by the sight of a sweetly vulnerable newborn, or when we are renewed by the cool water of a swimming pool on a hot day, we’re experiencing the creative goodness of God. These moments are proof of what St. Ignatius Loyola believed: that we can and should find God in all things. God meets us where we are, as humans living and breathing and moving in a tangible world, and the five senses are five entry points for God’s love to become known to us.
One thing I value about my Catholic faith is how thoroughly it embodies this reality. Our prayer and worship involve the touch of holy water, the smell of incense, the vivid glow of stained glass, and the taste of the Eucharist. Though there’s a stereotype that Catholicism is hostile to the body, the reverse is true: our faith knows that the body and the soul work together, powerfully.
That’s a lesson I had to learn myself, two decades ago. I was a cradle Catholic who moved away from the Church in my college years, in part because I thought my childhood faith wanted me to reject the physical world in favor of some unrealistic idea of soulful perfection. But thanks to a few key experiences in my twenties, I learned that Catholicism doesn’t deny the power of the body; it actually celebrates it. And now at Mass, when I kneel and hear the Great Amen and see the crucifix and taste the Body of Christ, I am living a faith that invites me to taste and see the goodness of the Lord, and to hear and smell and touch it, too. And when I let that awareness infuse my daily living, when I bring that kind of mindfulness to my commute and my workplace and my home, I see that St. Ignatius Loyola was right: if you have your senses open, you can indeed find God in all things.
So this month of prayer is an invitation: an invitation to “come to our senses,” and to celebrate how God reaches us through our eyes, nose, mouth, hands, ears, and skin. It’s a chance to become conscious of faith as a full-body experience, and to see how that awareness can make us ever more fully alive.
Ginny, Thank you for your wonderful insights on the five senses and being fully alive. We are starting a teen catechist training and the article is a good follow up on our first workshop which included one of the 10 catechetical principles “We get new impressions through our senses.” The 7 teens thoroughly got it. Your follow up article confirms it 🙂 Be blessed Joan
The very first thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning is to give thanks for my sight. I take a deep breath and my lungs fill with the miracle of breath and I hear it. As I sit up I give thanks to the Lord for my ability to feel and move. In my first sips of water my gratitude is for the sense of taste. And when I arrive to work with my patients in the ICU my compassion in healthcare is transformed in the Lord’s work through me. My senses allow me to treat those who cannot breath,or taste,or smell,or see, or hear. I give thanks every day. Always. And I have a blessed life because of it.
Thank you for that beautiful reflection. You are so right I think. Surely we must experience with our senses a ” world charged with the grandeur of God. Everything around me in nature truly inspires me and all Creation and every living thing screams of Wonder and admiration of Our Living Creator. What can be so relaxing and awe-inspiring than those magnificent David Programmes on the Living World? We don’t need to search too hard to find God and worship Him
What a beautiful Celebration as we begin DAY 1 God Calls, We respond with Saint Ignatius. We belong to a small Italian JESUIT Parish of St. Rita of Cascia. And we begin on our First Friday of July where we celebrate The Mass with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and are fed with the Body and Blood of Our Savior in The Eucharist. Throughout the day we have exposition of The Blessed Sacrament with volunteers for an hour with Jesus in Adoration. What a Grace filled Blessing to be able to partake in.
When God called me to the Catholic expression of the Christian faith, one aspect that drew me was the fact that the Catholic liturgy involves us totally, our entire selves, in worship. Thanks for the reminder!
Thanks for these great insights, Ginny. Today is a fine summer day here in Chicago to “come to my senses.” Thanks for the reminder. I might have walked numbly through the day as I often do when I have too much on my mind and not enough awareness in my body.