Did you ever ascend to grandma’s attic or kneel down into your garden’s freshly turned earth to whiff an aroma that transported you beyond place and time? The scent reported a connection unique and personal in all of the world. It is both ordinary and thrilling how smell triggers timeless feelings of place and belonging.
A Lutheran layman tells of walking his daughter Meddy down the steps to Sunday School one day. Only six, still she observed, “Ah, the church basement smell.” If she could have only known how grown-up and telling her observation was. There is something comforting, even soothing and reassuring about such homegrown scents in places we love, like church. Frankly, it started me thinking.
What scents transport you to generations past at church? Animal crackers and lemonade help me recall my church nursery days. A sun-warmed Sunday School room smells of melting crayons, and drying paste. Also, glossy paper stock from the curriculum takes me back to Vacation Bible School. I remember the smell from the box of hard candy we received for being in the children’s Christmas program. We sniffed the boxes intensely because we were not allowed to open them until we were outside the church. Like Meddy, what smells take you back?
Sometimes I wonder what aromas will remain with our children after we are gone from this earth, triggering memories of this place and time in ministry together. Will it be the coffee heating and brewing, or children smelling and then tasting multiple pumpkin donut holes at Coffee Hour? Is it the trailing smoke of the candles, extinguished after worship? The intoxicating smell of brisket and pork shoulder on the grill at Welcome Back Sunday? The scent of bread and cup on our breath, with a hush upon our countenance, having communed with our Lord?
Wherever we imagine the scents of the church, we find real spiritual connection. The astringent pungency of pine at an Advent wreath-making. Piquant tacos served up at a Building One Community dinner. The floral accents of women’s perfume as we embrace upon passing the peace. The smell of chicken or baked ziti on Thursdays as we cook up for the hungry mouths at the Open Door Shelter.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good,” the Psalmist invites us (34:8). But taste and smell are related almost to the point of being indistinguishable. Isn’t it amazing how God wastes nothing in teaching our hearts, in sealing eternally upon our souls the goodness and sufficiency of this day that only God gives us?
Even fleeting and ethereal whiffs can serve as foundation for lifetimes of service and praise. If only we could train our hearts to celebrate and enjoy now, to be fully present in this moment, like we do later as the memories come wafting back.
I love babies’ sweet smell as I baptize them. This Sunday we baptize Chase and Christopher, new to FCC. Who knows, maybe they will bond with my aftershave?