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This last week I have been in the beautiful state of Colorado visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and 14 month old niece. The magic of vaccinations and airplanes has made this vacation possible and I am deeply grateful.

My niece is endlessly curious and has recently begun walking with a lot of confidence. She loves gravel paths and splashing in puddles. But she has a special love for smelling flowers. When she sees a flower — real or fake — or hears the word flower, she scrunches up her little nose and begins sniffing enthusiastically as if trying to take in every ounce of smell the flower will offer.

You can imagine her delight when we went to the Botanic Gardens at the beginning of the week. As soon as we got there she began saying “Walk! Walk!” And off she went walking, her little owl shoes squeaking with each and every step. Sweet girl can really get going, but at the gardens she made frequent stops to stoop down, scrunch up that little nose, and sniff-sniff-sniff the flowers.

At first, I felt like we were moving so slowly through the gardens. A few steps and then a stop to smell the flowers. Then a few more steps and a stop. The stops to smell flowers weren’t always quick, she was really going to smell these blooms. Now, sure, it makes sense that at Botanic Gardens one would stop and smell the flowers. However, I tend to be a walk and look kind of garden goer. If flowers are fragrant enough, I’ll maybe catch a whiff as I pass by, but I don’t often stop moving to breathe in the scent.

Sure, I could and did catch the scent of the hyacinths by walking past them, but to really experience the fullness of them, I had to follow my niece’s lead — stop moving, stoop down low, scrunch up my nose, and sniff-sniff-sniff the flower. It was important to move slowly through the gardens, to stop at each colorful bloom and breathe deeply.

Consider other fragrant things — candles for example. I love candles and most often light them when I am settling in for the evening, ready for rest. The scent of the candle signals to me to slow down and breathe deeply, taking in the fragrance. The smell tells me the day is done and it is time for rest.

Many of us have scents that are nostalgic: the smell of a Sunday roast cooking in the oven, our mother’s perfume, or the pages of an old classic book. I imagine you have others floating through your mind. These nostalgic smells are often dear to us because they take us back to simpler times. They transport us to our childhood when we were not concerned with mortgage payments, conflicts at work, or politics. They remind us of times when our general pace of life was slower and simpler.

I wonder if knowing God through our sense of smell is about our pace. I wonder if it is about allowing ourselves to stop moving, scrunch up our noses, and sniff-sniff-sniff the goodness around us. Perhaps it is not about discovering what God smells like, but rather of slowing down enough to not miss God in the small, sometimes fleeting, simplicity of scents. Perhaps various scents remind us that God does not rush. Maybe they remind us that God is in small details. Or that God’s beauty is so vast that even the smallest flowers can have almost magical fragrance if only we will slow down enough to notice.

Consider this familiar passage from Matthew:

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

The wildflowers that are here today and gone tomorrow are dressed in splendor. They also are wildly fragrant. How much does God care for us? I think the invitation is to not only look at the flowers of the field, but to stop and smell them as well. To take a cue from my niece, scrunch up our noses, and sniff-sniff-sniff.

We are deeply loved and we do not need to rush around frantically to hang on to that love. Beloved, breathe deeply, take in the fragrance of love and grace and mercy. And maybe get outside and enjoy some flowers.

Photo from Unsplash, by Casey Murphy, @seemurph18

Katie Alley

Katie Alley serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Formation at Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. She loves taking long walks with her dog Twyla, driving with the windows down, and sipping chai lattes with friends. You can find more of her writing at revkatiealley.wordpress.com 

4 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I wish the Reformed churches would recover the use of incense.

  • mstair says:

    Grateful
    smiled this morning as you evoked this thought…
    we smell … and we also smell… (transitive and intransitive)

    “But thank God, who is always leading us around through Christ as if we were in a parade. He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through us. We smell like the aroma of Christ’s offering to God, both to those who are being saved and to those who are on the road to destruction.”(2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Katie, for pointing out the discovery of God through our senses, today, the sense of smell. We are wonderfully created beings and perhaps our senses do point us to God. I wonder if that is true for dogs? After all they have many of the same senses as do people – taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing. Maybe animals have a sensus divinitatis too. But I doubt that dogs or other animals have a sense of Jesus Christ which requires a so called special revelation to be revealed, which is not available to animals or even the majority of human beings. And of course, the senses may point the Muslim to Allah, or the Jehovah Witness to Jehovah, or the Hindu to Shiva, or perhaps Buddha for the Buddhist. To know those Gods one has to have the special revelations of those other religions, just like Christians having the Bible. Thanks, Katie, for your insight to knowing God. Maybe we could just do away with all the man made revelations of different religions and rely on God’s self revelation, the creation.

  • Travis says:

    “God does not rush.” This hit me between the eyes today. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to cultivate an unrushed life as I’ve been writing about the Sabbath (and trying to live what I’m writing about!). I think it happens mostly through the little things that regularly slow us down and remind us of the life swirling around us, waiting to be seen and celebrated—like flowers waiting to be sniffed! Thanks for this reminder today, Koki! Grateful for you and all you’ve been offering us here.

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