Monday, October 14, 2013

Scent and Spirit

The Spirituality of Smell, part 4

We live in a culture that has drunk deeply from materialistic notion that the visible world is all there is. According to this narrative, human beings are simply collections of matter and energy.

Aromatherapy, which acknowledges the importance of the human soul, goes against this reductionistic view of the world. As Kurt Schnaubelt writes in Medical Aromatherapy: Healing With Essential Oils:

“Modalities such as aromatherapy, which acknowledge the phenomena of the soul, will be vastly more successful in treating the real problems of our times than conventional medicine….Fragrance has always transcended the material planes of consciousness (science) and communicated directly with those of the soul (the psycho-social plane).” (Schnaubelt, pp 15-16)

It could be that the pervasive materialism of our culture would be harder to sustain if we were more sensitive to scent. Do this experiment. Turn off your i-phone, cleanse your mind of all distractions, and spend some time alone in a field or a wood or garden. While you’re there, take care to concentrate on the smells around you. As you become enveloped in the smells of the place, you may find your sensitivity to the spiritual realm increasing. 

Throughout his autobiographical work The Fragrance of God, Vigen Guroian describes his experience connecting to God through the smells of his garden. His sensitivity to scent’s power to evoke deep spiritual longings began in his early childhood, when he experienced a particularly haunting rose bush at his parents’ house:
At the good of the old-fashioned tongue-and-groove porch of my childhood home grew an apothecary rose that in May blushed red with flowers so fragrant its sweet breath made me dizzy….  
While shuffling through rows of potted plants at a nursery one spring, I was suddenly seized by a yearning for something or someone that I could not name. Then I became conscious of a long-forgotten fragrance. It was the same Rosa gallica officinalis that grew next to my parents’ front porch so many years past. It was hidden behind a sign that read ‘Old-fashioned Roses.’ So I took it home and planted it at the end of a garden path in our backyard.

For five years I reveled in the fragrance of that rose. I would steal barefoot over the dew-laden lawn at daybreak, when the scent is strong, and lose myself in childhood memories….

Of late, I have thought a lot about the gift of our senses that in youth run wild and that later in life we neglect or abuse. A blessing of our middle years may be that in slowing down, God gives us the chance – how shall I put it? – to return to our senses with new wonder, intensified by the passage of time.

" me to distinguish Mary’s sweet
fragrance and yours, from all the false
fragrances that waft my way
Guroian ends the first chapter of his book with a poem he wrote at the time of Advent, when he promised God that the following Spring he would plant that rose in his garden:

Lord, in this season of expectation
    help me to distinguish Mary’s
        sweet fragrance
    and yours,
        from all the false fragrances
that waft my way.
        And when spring arrives,
I promise that I will plant a rose
        In my garden
Like the one that grew
        by the porch of my parents’ home,
and I will breathe in its sensuous smell
        on the breeze that blows in
from blessed Paradise.

Further Reading

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