Friday, August 27, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 18: Hospital

Walking down the hallway of the surgical floor, the permeating smell of antiseptic-adhesive-gauze—the smell of a Band-Aids—registered with my olfactory sense. Even now, I can recall it, a familiar smell, not altogether pleasant or repugnant, but one that makes my stomach stir.

We were there to pray with a very dear friend who underwent a daunting, extremely serious surgery. At 30 years old, an athlete her entire life, she needed to have an operation to reconstruct her hip. As I visited the hospital, twice in two days, I noticed the hospital smell. I’ve known people who can’t stand that particular odor—it brings back too many bad memories or incites too many overwhelming fears. Not for me.

I do have strong, difficult memories of hospitals and they all do seem to smell the same. But for me, I think of a hospital as a sacred shelter, a place where sick people can be held in stillness so that others who know how to care for them can do so. I feel a profound gratefulness for hospitals, for all the care we have at our disposal in this country—at least many of us.

In another hospital only a few miles from my friend, two of my daughters stood vigil with another 30-year-old woman. This one is fighting for her life. She has cancer and yesterday took a surprising and devastating turn. Her family and close friends gathered to form a circle of support, their aching, breaking hearts clasped together.

When I smell hospital, I envision holy ground. As a pastor, I have prayed many times with people in the hospital. For me, it is a place of healing and sometimes a place to walk with God and another through the valley of the shadow of death. I have no doubt that the Spirit hovers amidst the blend of medicinal smells, ministering through the prayers of those who bleed them, doing the work of healing and in some cases extricating—extricating spirits from their earthly bodies, releasing them to their eternal home.

Would you mind taking some time right now and praying with me for these two women? Pray for those you know whom are sick, perhaps in a hospital. Ask the Spirit to anoint them in the healing name of Jesus.

“Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.” James 5:14, 15

Saturday, August 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 17: Sour

When we talk about the sense of smell, we must inevitably acknowledge the many unpleasant smells that accost our nostrils—and one of those sickening smells to me is “sour.” You know what smell I am referring to? Sour—as in sour milk or cottage cheese; sour towels; and sour from the odor of vomit. It is by far one of the most off-putting smells. And right now, sour is lingering on my sofa!

On Monday morning, our dear sweet pup, Bongo, decided to help himself to a tub of butter when I wasn’t looking. I had just opened it—of course. So, he consumed about 8 ounces of real butter with canola oil and then proceeded to vomit, spontaneously with out any warning, for the next 48 hours. (And you know what comes after vomit…) One of the places he projectiled was at the end of a sofa in our family room.

I immediately tried to remove the contents and smell by washing it with baking soda and water. No improvement. Then I took the cover off (it is at the dry cleaners) and washed the inside of the cushion with all-purpose cleaner. Still only a little improvement. Today, I will try again, though I’m not sure I know what product I will use. Any suggestions?

Sour. A putrid smell develops because of something going bad — staying too long in a refrigerator, a closed hamper or a living being’s stomach. But what about stuff that stays too long inside our hearts? As I ponder this smell and am guided by the Spirit to let this sense teach me, I think of how certain attitudes sour within me and when I vomit them, they smell vile.

Anger stuffed inside comes out sour and accusing. It often has a rancid smell as it brews in my heart and turns rank. Bitterness and resentment has the same shelf life—it doesn’t take long when left inside, closed up in the dark recesses of my heart, to turn bile-like. A critical spirit is another attitude that just this week the Spirit opened my eyes to, a souring disposition stewing inside me that in a matter of time will explode.

Attitudes turn sour because they are kept bottled up until they erupt like vomit, often onto the nearest person we can find to blame. The secret to keeping these feelings from turning noxious is to confess them to God before they turn sour. No matter how awful they are, whom they are directed toward or what language through which they are spoken--honest, ruthlessly raw confession is the best anecdote for removing sour smells from our own heart. In the presence of God, we have a Gentle Counselor who listens without judgment, glad that we trust him enough to share our rank, stinky thoughts before they spoil.

So, what feelings have you stuffed inside that are about to turn sour? Take some time to write in your journal or take a prayer walk and come clean before God.

Monday, August 16, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 16: Valve Oil

On Saturday, I did something I haven’t done in a couple of years. I got out my French horn and played it for our grandson. He is almost a year old but seems to love music and sounds. He plunks the piano, bangs on our tom-tom, and when I got out my horn and played it, he sat listening--mesmerized.

For not having played in a couple of years, I didn’t sound too bad. I was a French horn performance major at Indiana University and my tone had the reminiscence of someone who once played well, but my technique was a different story. I felt clumsy and had no embouchure what so ever. What really stood out to me through this experience was all the seminal smells.

When I got my horn out of its case, I smelled the scent of must and brass inside. I cradled my horn in my arms, slipped in the mouthpiece and could smell the inside of the lead pipe--a combination of old saliva and metal. I took out some valve oil and oiled the rotary valves. Wow. I had strong, distinctive memories flood my mind: my first horn professor, John Miller who played with the ISO; Philip Farkas, my horn prof at IU; playing in orchestras in high school and college; friends who were horn players like Patti, Jill, Eric and Chris. I wonder what has happened to them?

These aromas were nostalgic ones—some of the most powerful smells I have smelled. In part, it might be because they were not subtle odors. Valve oil, slide grease and musty brass are very strong and distinctive smells. But what I think made them really powerful was the ambush of profound memories of people and experiences that have shaped my life.

Even though I don’t play my French horn much now, I know that my experience as a young musician molded me in significant ways. Even today, I think my sense of cadence in writing and speaking was shaped through learning to phrase music. My love of the arts, the intangible gifts of sound and sight that speak so directly to my heart were nurtured through learning this wonderful instrument.

Even to this day, no matter where I am, if I hear the sound of a French horn, I am immediately and uncontrollably drawn to the sound—just like Eli--mesmerized! How has learning a musical instrument shaped your soul? What smells do you associate with that instrument?

Friday, August 13, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 15: Smelling Yourself

It’s been said that women don’t sweat—they glisten. I don’t buy it. It’s a polite way of avoiding the awkward truth that we all smell, women and men alike, and sometimes that odor isn’t very pleasant. So why is it that we have such an aversion to the natural smell of body odor? I guess for the obvious—it isn’t a very agreeable smell and offends our noses.

In fact, a whole industry exists for the elimination of bodily, human smells. Body washes, deodorants, body sprays, colognes and perfumes have been designed to wash away, protect against and cover up our natural scent when we sweat. These products are not always successful but they do a pretty good job of masking the discomforting, stinky smell of b.o.

When I smell myself--after I’ve worked out, gardened, or been in my un-airconditioned car too long (yeah, it’s now on the fritz—great timing with this blast of scorching, drenching heat!)--I can’t wait to take a shower or douse myself with body spray. My initial reaction is to quickly eliminate the odor my body naturally emits from sweating. (Or did I mean, glistening?)

That reminds me of the tendency I have to cover up other issues of my life that I find embarrassing—things like my sensitivity to criticism, my over-reaction to blame, my pettiness. The emotion that ties these two reactions together—the reaction of smelling myself and my “stuff”—is shame. Shame is self rejection; it’s the reaction of self-embarrassment, self-loathing, the need to hide.

We all stink, inside and out. Wouldn’t it be much healthier to accept the earthy, human smell of ourselves than quickly and anxiously try to cover it up? (I'm not advocating a deodorant-less free-for-all!)

So, here’s an unusual spiritual practice I bet you've never tried: the next time you catch a whiff of yourself, instead of running off to take a shower or re-apply your deodorant, why not smell yourself. As you breathe in the odor of your own sweat, ask God to help you fully accept your humanity, your body, your earthiness. Open yourself to be loved and embraced by God in your own stink.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 14: Old English Almond Oil

It’s Saturday and for me, that means it’s time to reclaim my home. After a week of work, living with a very hairy dog and often having kids or company of some sort in during the week, I am keenly aware that my house needs some attention. So, I started this morning with the kitchen floor. As it was drying, I moved to polishing the furniture. Usually I use lemon oil, but the store was out, so I bought, instead, some Old English almond oil.

I opened the bottle (actually I had to have David give me a hand—don’t know why they make tamper resistant tops so resistant!) and began to sprinkle it on top of a large wooden chest we use for a coffee table. Ahhhh….the fragrance was wonderful. It filled the room with this warm, luscious nutty scent. After that, I found great pleasure in lathering anything that required polish with this new found favorite polish.

As I dusted and enjoyed the bouquet of almondy fragrance, I thought of how this smell speaks to me about my spiritual life. Almonds are probably my favorite nut. I love to sprinkle them on our yogurt in the morning. The flavor and texture are so satisfying to me. And then I thought, to top it off, God not only made almonds with a fabulous taste, he gave them a wonderful aroma.

I think that provides some insight into what God is like. He is a sensual creator. God is anything but pragmatic. If he were, everything he made would serve a utilitarian purpose. It would meet our needs but it wouldn’t satisfy us—our love for beauty, pleasure and delight. Instead, God created a world bursting with sights, smells, tastes, textures and sounds that are as diverse as they are magnificent.

I love that almonds not only have an amazing taste but they also have a delicious smell. I love that they produce oil that restores moisture and sheen to my furniture. Sometimes I am just amazed at how God thought of it all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 13: Organic sweat

With record-breaking temperatures and humidity oppressing large areas of our country, it’s no wonder today’s smell is one my husband described as “organic sweat.” We went for a walk early this morning, and though it was before 8 am, the temperature felt in the 90’s with 99% humidity. As we slogged along our usual loop, I asked David how he would describe the smell outside. About that time, we caught a very strong whiff of steamy compost coming up from the ground and then he named it—organic sweat. Yes. Very apropos.

It’s the smell of wet, earthy, decomposing plant matter. It’s heavy in the air; hanging like a damp sheet on a line, unable to dry. Another name for it might be humus—an organic brew of decayed plants and animal excrement that gardeners add to soil to enrich it. (Not to be confused with hummus—a wonderful, Middle Eastern dish made from chickpeas and tahini.) As we smelled organic sweat, it had this intense quality—natural but not all together pleasant.

For that matter, human sweat is no different. Our bodies have a built-in cooling system that excretes moisture to decrease our body temperature. The moisture we produce is a combination of oily, glandular, stinky, sweaty smells—natural but not all together pleasant. Among both vegetation and humanity, sweat helps maintain life and keep us hydrated. Today’s smell leads me to the question, “What do I learn about life in the Spirit from sweat, organic or human?”

I think of times when life around me feels humid, hot and heavy. Circumstances, expectations, schedules lay on me like a wet, cumbersome blanket. The temperature of my life situation feels like a pressure-cooker. During a heat wave, nature compensates by becoming very still--you can almost feel it's breath. In the same way, I need to become still and resist unnecessary movement. I need to conserve my energy and preserve a spiritual and emotional temperature that enables me to remain calm and hydrated.

When the heat is turned up in our life, we won’t be able to throw it off by brute force any more than we can throw off this oppressive heat. Rather, we must find shade, a place where we can wait it out, until the oppressive temperature lifts. So, where do you find shade? How can God become your shelter? Take some time to meditate on the image in this Psalm and see where God invites you to rest: “The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night." Psalm 121: 5, 6

Sunday, August 1, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 12: Smelling Fiesta

Thursday night, we hosted a fiesta in celebration of our oldest daughter’s birthday. I love to fix a meal that is a particular favorite of that son or daughter and so Mexican was the obvious choice for Britt. The night before, I roasted poblano peppers and prepared chilies rellenos. I smelled the tangy, peppery smell as they popped and sizzled in the oven.

The next afternoon, we grilled Yucatan chicken, a spicy dish that I marinated all night in ancho chili pepper and lime juice. The smoky, zesty fragrance must have made the neighbors hungry. Not long before the guests arrived, I prepared queso fundito, a famous Bobby Flay recipe from the Mesa Grill. It was fabulous—a bubbly hot mess of Monterey jack cheese and goat cheese with a green chili vinaigrette garnish—savory to smell.

I served each dish tapas style and we dove into each one and relished the zesty combinations of smells and flavors. But food wasn't the only smell filling the air. I could smell the party. It was the aroma of celebration, being family, enjoying each other. It was the scent of festivity, the fun of being adults, having grown-up conversations, everyone old enough to drink a margarita. I smelled the aroma of home, the place David and I have created together; the place that still draws us together.

I love the smell of fiesta—especially when it involves my family. I’m already planning my next.