Earlier this year when I wasn't as busy, I took a few days to read about the interface between spirituality and smell. What follows is the first installment in a series of posts drawn from the notes I took during this reading.
A vast censer
|St. Ephrem the Syrian|
impregnates the air
with its odoriferous smoke,
imparting to all who are near it
a whiff from which to benefit.
How much the more so
with Paradise the glorious:
even its fence assists us,
that curse upon the earth
by the scent of its aromas
St. Ephrem the Syrian
Hymns on Paradise, 11:13
Saint Ephrem the Syrian (306–373) penned the above words in his Hymn on Paradise, reflecting the early Christian belief that fragrance played an important role in connecting us to the things of the spirit. Even in our cursed world, nature acts as a giant censer by which the Almighty impregnates our air with the odors of paradise.
Whether it is the fresh smell of the ocean that is refreshing and vibrant, or the uplifting and stabilizing smell of woodland, you’ll find yourself enveloped in smells that embody the very personality of the location. “Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow up on my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad.” (Song of Songs 4:16)
This sensitivity to smell takes practice. We usually take smells for granted, and although they influence us on a subliminal level, we tend to focus more on what we see with our eyes. However, when we learn to cultivate the sense of smell, our senses begin to be opened up to a whole new dimension.
I think St. Ephrem must have experienced something like this when he referred to the “vast censer / exhaling fragrance…imparting to all who are near it / a whiff from which to benefit.”
There is no substitute to experiencing the smells of the natural world in this way. However, if you don’t have the time or ability to commune with the smells of nature, a whiff of essential oils can be almost just as good. The bracing and exhilarating smell of Idaho Blue Spruce essential oil gives the sense of being in an Idaho forest, while one whiff of the thick and earthy fragrance of Vetiver essential oil can transport a person into lush woodlands with damp grasses and wild herbs.
In the next post on the spirituality of smell, I will be looking specifically at the relationship between smell and the church.
- A Whiff From Which to Benefit (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 1)
- Scent and the Christian Church (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 2)
- Recovering the Spirituality of Scent (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 3)
- Scent and Spirit (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 4)
- Body Odor and Personal Identity (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 5)
- Smell, Love and Emotion (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 6)
- Wendell Berry on Health and Beauty (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 7)
- The Body and the Self (The Spirituality of Smell, Part 8)
- Grasping the Essence (my essential oils blog)