Monday, July 26, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 11: Mystery Smell

I opened the refrigerator yesterday and began to sniff. A smell wafted by my nose from some deep, concealed place—the smell of rotten. I began to look for it, trace it down. I started with the vegetable drawer where I often find the culprit, although not this time. I spun jars and bottles around on the door to look for expiration dates. Nothing obvious there. Finally, in the top shelf toward the back I saw an old container of hummus. I picked it up, looked at the date—which was well past due—and saw on the inside a clump of gangrenous-looking mold. Yuck!

My sleuthing and finding of the mystery smell took the use of all my senses. I looked around. I heard containers clang as I shifted them, careful not to knock them over. I touched them and rotated them for better viewing. I let my smeller direct me toward the source of the stench. The only sense I didn’t use was taste—for obvious reasons! My other senses provided enough evidence to be convinced that I had found the offender.

This experience makes me think of Martha’s protest when Jesus suggested that someone role away the stone at Lazarus’ tomb. “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Refrigerators are a bit like tombs: cold, dark and dank. Sometimes they conceal dead things, rotting things that indeed stinketh.

Even within our own hearts are concealed places, cut off from light and cold as death. In those places lurk past wounds, sinister lies and cruel secrets. To discover them, we must trace the rank smell of death. That requires all of our senses and the desire to eliminate the source. Do you long to search out the places in your own heart that stinketh? Why not begin with some questions for spiritual direction:

• Where do you smell the stench of rottenness in your life?
• If you were to hunt it down, what containers would you open?
• What experiences, events or relationships have left a bitter taste in your mouth?
• What’s the expiration date? When were these hurts sealed inside you?
• Where do you hear the cries of your soul for healing and resurrection?
• Are you willing to open the container to God and let him deal with the contents?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 9: Hypnotic Poison

Last night, David and I stopped by a local restaurant where our youngest daughter works. She had been a hostess for a couple of years and recently graduated to server status. When she saw us, her face lit up and she came over and gave me a big hug. The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, you smell so good!” I immediately identified the scent of her perfume—Hypnotic Poison by Dior—one that has been a favorite of mine since the first time I bought it for one of her sisters. (It's a strange name—like who wants to wear poison--but a wonderful fragrance.)

Every time Brooke came to our table (and by the way, the service was excellent!), I caught a whiff of her perfume. It has an unusual combination of smells: sweet, musky, heavy, dark and spicy. I really love it! It is the most memorable fragrance I know. After we left the restaurant, we went shopping and I could still detect the scent—somehow it stayed with me. Even this morning as I was reading, once again I became aware of Hypnotic Poison. (Maybe the name is apropos. It’s certainly hypnotized me!)

Have you ever had a perfume or cologne become a memory-trigger of someone in your life? I have known many friends who identify certain fragrances with a loved one. One friend told me that she kept a bottle of her mother’s perfume after she died. Occasionally, my friend opens it and smells it and when she does, she has an intense memory of her mom.

When we smell a familiar and potent fragrance that evokes the memory of someone, why not allow that to be the spark for prayer: a prayer of thanksgiving for that person; a prayer of healing for that relationship; a prayer of blessing for him or her. As I sat and smelled Hypnotic Poison this morning, I thought of Brooke and prayed for her. It was a sweet prompt that allowed me to enter into her life through prayer, asking God to keep her close, draw her near and help her find her way in this world.

Monday, July 19, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 9: Lake

Over the weekend, David and I went to Lake Wawasee with our house church. We had a blast! (That sounds so high school—but fitting, maybe because we acted like we were in high school!) Numerous times while I was there, I smelled the close scent of lake water. I noticed that when we were on the boat, I even felt the smell of it as it whipped across my face, slicing by my nostrils, clinging to my skin. It was the odor of algae, fish and soggy wetness.

I wouldn’t describe it as pleasant nor unpleasant. It’s a nostalgic smell with strong associations of wet bathing suites and slippery docks; spray on your face and coolness on your skin. It evokes thoughts of summertime, friends, laughter, play and sunburns. It’s a weathered smell, filled with old, musty sentiments. I like it. It has a lot of character.

Jesus spent a great deal of time around lakes—fishing, walking on them, napping in a boat as it rocked in a storm or speaking from its bow. He smelled all the smells of lake. I have a hunch he liked them, too. In fact, I picture Jesus being most at home by a lake. It suits him—a weathered, earthy, unpretentious man who wasn’t afraid to get wet, brave the elements and let the spray hit his face. I like that about him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 8: Filled with the fragrance

You know those stargazer lilies I wrote about on Day 7? Yesterday, I went around the house to see them, take a moment to intoxicate myself with their heavenly fragrance and to my dismay, they were toppled over! The weight of the flower heads was too much for the stalks to bear. I saw only two options: allow their petals to fall to the ground and wither or cut them and bring them inside. I chose the later.

I cut two large clumps and placed them in a vase in my sitting room—the room I look into when I come in the front door or see when I walk from the upstairs to the downstairs. I placed them their so that I could see their beauty. Little did I know, I would also become aware of their fragrance every time I walked by.

I’m amazed at how permeating their scent is to the entire entrance of our home. Each time I pass by, they remind me they are there by the lovely, sweet, light perfume they emit. I thought of a passage of Scripture I read just the other day. It takes place in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus during a dinner party in honor of Jesus. In the story, Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume, anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. Then John records, “The house was filled with the fragrance.”(John 12:3)

Filled with the fragrance. That’s what happens when we bring something fragrant into our home; it intensifies the scent because it is concentrated in the space of those walls. Though I had a hard time smelling the lilies’ perfume outside until I got close and stuck my nose in their blossoms, I had no trouble smelling them inside my home. My house was filled with their fragrance.

When we receive Christ, we receive his fragrance into our interior lives, permeating our being. We become filled with Christ’s Spirit, the scent of his nature permeating our true self. This image prompts me to open my heart and bring Christ deeper in so that his aroma is more concentrated within my very being. How does this experience speak to you?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 7: Lilies

On the west side of the house, standing tall and proud, is a throng of Georgia O’Keefe lilies—blossoms so akin to her paintings, it’s impossible not to make the association. The difference is—these are real. David told me to make sure and look at them today. They are in brilliant bloom, gorgeous and lush, pink and prestigious-looking. As I walked to that side of the house, I felt immediate surprise to see them, like an unexpected visitor knocking at my door.

I leaned in to smell. At first, my olfactory didn’t pick up any fragrance. Then, I moved closer—stuck my nose right down into a big blossom and breathed in through my nose. Ahhhh. The waft of sweet, delicate fragrance floated into my nostrils and registered “lilies” in my brain.

I thought about the fact that these beauties, though striking and bold in appearance, possess a very faint, subtle smell. In some ways, their scent doesn’t match their dramatic appearance. Yet, it does. Something so lovely must have an equally lovely smell. But I wouldn’t know it unless I bothered to stick my nose in its business.

How much do I miss of the fragrance of life and its characters; the fragrance of the Author of life, because I don’t bother to lean in and get close enough for a whiff? Keeping a safe distance won’t do if I want to gather their perfumes, the fragrance of God within them.

I end with a question for you and myself:

Who or what do I need to move closer to in order to enjoy its scent?

Monday, July 5, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 7: Sulfur

Last night, we met some friends along the canal in downtown Indianapolis to watch the fireworks. Before they began, someone lit some sparklers next to us. The sulfur smell caught my attention and took me back to childhood. I remember being a bit afraid of sparklers, yet mesmerized by them. We would take them in our hands and circle our arms wide, making an arc. The hot sparks would fall of on my wrists, smarting them, but not enough to stop playing.

Once the fireworks started, the sulfur smell hovered in the hot, humid air of the evening. The odor was mildly unpleasant—sort of a burnt, eggy aroma. It lingered way past the time when any smoke from the fireworks remained. It’s a distinctive scent with strong associations. I don’t think I notice it during any other time than around the 4th of July.

Sulfur is what I would call an “anniversary smell.” It happens yearly at a predictable time and evokes images of celebrations, patriotic music, and red, white and blue. In fact, a friend said to me recently that when she smells a sparkler, she “feels” blissfully patriotic. I don’t know that I have the same reaction or feel compelled to hum “America, the Beautiful.” I do feel deeply grateful for the freedom and privileges I enjoy because I live in this country. Sulfur may be a disagreeable smell, but it stirs a good feeling.

Friday, July 2, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 6: Pot Roast

As I stood in front of the open freezer, I saw a pot roast staring back at me. Typically, it wouldn’t sound good during the hot summer months. But, I bought the roast two weeks ago because it was on sale and since the temperature around here has dipped—it’s felt almost fall-like—it sounded good and so out it came and into my slow cooker. Then all day long, the aroma of simmering beef, potatoes and carrots filled the house. Mmmm!

Beef cooking on the stove, roasting in the oven or grilled over charcoal has a tantalizing smell. It makes me hungry to think about it. A warm, comforting and filling aroma, it makes me think of home, growing up and Sunday dinners. It has a permeating, savory fragrance undoubtedly because of all the fat it contains. Meat, in general, has a much stronger odor while cooking than other foods. And beef, above all, awakens the olfactory glands with its strong, greasy, juicy bouquet.

It seems odd to me that rarely do I make the connection between the beef I am browning and the docile creature from where it comes. It’s as though I forget that it was once a living being—the blood that oozes from the package is a liquid of some other source than a life. When the Israelites brought their animal sacrifices to a priest, how did they experience its slaughter and then later sit down to a meal of its meat? Did they more readily smell and make the association? I wonder what that was like.

Another realization has provoked David and me. Recently, he read these disturbing statistics: *“The facts are now out on the price the Earth and the poor are paying to continue the meat addiction of rich countries. Twenty times more people can be fed from an acre of land if they are eating a vegetarian diet than if they are eating a typical American meat-oriented diet. The water required to raise livestock for a meat eater is 4,000 gallons per day; for a vegetarian, it is 300 gallons per day. Over 50 percent of the total amount of water consumed in the United States goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. In addition, ‘the livestock of the United State produces twenty times as much excrement as the entire human population of the country.’”

Though the delicious smell of pot roast bubbling in my slow cooker is enticing, we’ve made the decision that it will only be an occasional pleasure—once a month, or so. I don’t know that we are ready to become vegetarians. However, we do sense the need to reduce significantly our consumption of beef. It’s too easy in the 21st century, in our country, to live far from the food we eat, without connecting the dots that this is a living being I am consuming and it is costing our earth dearly to sustain this habit. So—savory as it is, the pot roast and all its relations will be a delicacy in the Booram home.

The Reinvention of Work, Matthew Fox, pg. 149