Welcome to the Taste and See: Experiencing God with Our Senses online retreat, where we’ll explore each of the senses as a way to encounter God. Today we consider the sense of smell.“Stop and smell the roses,” is a familiar invitation. It’s a call to slow down and to enjoy life as we live it.
There are many different ways to word this. We could tell each other to “stop and look at the sky” or “stop and listen to the birds.” But I like that this proverb invokes the sense of smell, recognizing the power of fragrance to positively influence our daily lives.
Sure, there are times when the ability to smell seems more like a curse than a blessing. A stinky diaper, rancid garbage, or that overbearing perfume in a crowded elevator can make us wish, temporarily, that there were four senses instead of five.
But the fact remains that the sense of smell can do a great deal to improve the quality of life. When you consider the wide appeal of scented candles and aromatherapy, you see how much power an inviting scent can have, and how often we use it to improve our well-being.
Smell is also distinctly connected with memory, so much so that a certain fragrance can bring back the past with a rush. Years ago, I remember being in the Communion line behind a woman whose soap or perfume (I’m not exactly sure which.) smelled exactly like the one my late grandmother used. Though it had been years since Grandma’s death, and though I had not even been conscious of her signature scent while she was alive, the smell flooded me with the sudden memory of her presence. It was a little gift, like grace, coming out of nowhere but so very welcome.
Even if it’s not charged with memory, an inviting fragrance can do so much to change our experience of a moment. When we smell something we love, we want to savor it, which involves pausing whatever we are doing and inhaling deeply, relishing the fragrance. This is different from the breathing we do most of the rest of the time, which is often shallow and quick, particularly when we are busy. To savor the scent of something means breathing intentionally, slowly. It means filling our lungs in a way that centers us and relaxes us. It means pausing in an appreciation that is its own kind of prayer.
So to stop and smell the roses—or the coffee, or the pine forest, or the fresh pages of a brand-new book—is a very good thing indeed. It’s good for the body; it’s good for our mind; it’s good for our memories. And, as a reminder of the sweetness of God’s creation, it’s good for the soul.
Begin. Center yourself. Take three deep breaths and open yourself to God’s presence.
Give thanks. Thank God for the gift of smell, for the things in the created world that generate inviting scents, and for the memories of your past.
Review. Think of your favorite scents. Make a list of them if you like. Think of times when you’ve relished them and of the joy that they have brought you.
Have you ever had the experience of smelling something and instantly remembering a place, a person, or an experience? What was that like? Share the memory with God.
Think of a few of your favorite activities. What role does smell play in each of them? Ponder how playing Frisbee would be different without the scent of freshly cut grass or how quilting would be different without the smell of the fabric. Think about how those smells enhance the experience.
Look ahead. Tomorrow, pay particular attention to the smells you encounter as you go throughout your day. When the day is over, take a few minutes to review them and to notice which ones you most enjoyed.
When you encounter a smell you love, take time to relish it. Breathe deeply and let your body relax as you savor the scent. Think of God’s goodness and love filling you with every slow, renewing breath.
Go more in-depth with the themes of this retreat by reading Ginny Kubitz Moyer’s book Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses.
What a beautiful concept to concentrate on the sense of smell. What comes to mind is the perfume my wife uses. The soap I use first thing in the morning. Stepping out of doors early, catching the morning mist with its autumnal smell of leaves or recent cut lawn. The writer is right I too recall people and events with certain smell. God is good and his World is good to us.
When I was a child, my farm-raised father experimented with a variety of interesting vegetables and flowers in his suburban garden. We had a typical vegetable garden, but also almond trees and grape vines, irises and chrysanthemums. A flower I especially loved was a fall-blooming ginger lily. It had beautiful flowers and a delicious scent. I remember cutting stems and taking them to my teachers during the first few weeks of school each year. The lilies in parents’ yard eventually died out, but I have embarked on my own gardening experimentation. For years I searched for ginger lily bulbs to no avail. Finally, 2 summers ago I found some in a catalog and quickly placed my order. They sprouted and grew, but no flowers appeared the first fall. I carefully watered and fertilized, and this September was blessed with 4 beautiful stems of lilies. As beautiful as the flowers are, it was the scent that was amazing! I could feel my Dad admiring them with me, and hear the Nuns telling me ‘thank you’ for the pretty flowers. Truly our sense of smell is a miracle, and as I enjoyed God’s flowers, I gave thanks.
Laura, what a beautiful memory. Thank you for sharing it here. (And now I want to go find some ginger lilies! I’d love to know what they smell like.)