by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    May 31, 2020

I’m starting to write this on Memorial Day while I’m out for a walk. My walking is somewhat painful and lacking in grace these days because of continuing nerve trauma. But I’m walking. And without any assistive devices. That alone borders on the miraculous and puts me in a state of constant gratitude.

As a writer, I never go anywhere without a notepad and pen, so I’m pausing to sit at a picnic table, having completed a stroll along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail. What’s striking me is that the slower pace of my movement has invited me to notice in detail and in fresh ways how the trail has come alive with wildflowers and shrubs bursting with both blossom and scent. And one phrase keeps coming back to me. “The air is heavy with fragrance.”

Suddenly, these scents pull me back to Haiti. It’s the feast of Corpus Christi in 2000, and I’m awakened at dawn not by sound or light but by the perfume of tropical flowers wafting through the window. The air is heavy with fragrance and it pulls me out of bed to take in an amazing sight: children and villagers and the Little Sisters of Saint Therese coming together to spread thousands of petals on the road. With these blossoms, they outline a ciborium, a host, a heart. Later that day, we’ll process with the Blessed Sacrament around their early morning art, strewing showers of petals and drinking in their intoxicating scent as we prayerfully move forward.

The air is heavy with fragrance. Now it pulls me toward the story of the unnamed woman (Mark 14:3-9), she who knows herself harshly judged and unwelcome in a gathering of men only. She trembles before their disdain but keeps her gaze fixed on Jesus. She pours out not only her alabaster flask of perfume but the overflow of her grateful heart. Her gesture is at once tender and extravagant, an emphatic statement of the power of love, an offering that will forever be remembered. And the air is heavy with fragrance.Anointing copy

This morning’s contemplation triggered by scent has left me wondering. What fragrance is my life leaving behind? What is the air around me heavy with? When I leave a room, when I move forward from an encounter, what lingers after I exit? My hope is that it’s an aura of compassion, a feeling of being heard, a sense of loving presence, a gentle peace. I thank all that’s blossoming and scenting the air today for reminding me that wherever I go, the air is heavy with fragrance. And the fragrance remains.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a flower, a scented candle, or anything that offers a pleasing fragrance, hold it in your hands.
Slowly inhale its essence.
Savor its scent and notice what moves within you as you do.
Ask the Holy One to infuse your actions today with a fragrance that remains.
Slowly breathe out a blessing.

Before the restrictions put in place for COVID-19, I was scheduled to spend 11 days this month offering retreats for the Grey Nuns in Ottawa, Canada, and to offer a day of restoration and renewal for caregivers in the Albany, NY Diocese in early June.  

All of these events have been canceled and re-scheduled but I ask you to remember in your prayer the communities and organizations that sponsored them. They have made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel gatherings so they can cherish lives and protect and safeguard those who would have been part of this spiritual work. I’m grateful for their wisdom and thoughtfulness. 

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5 thoughts on “Scentsations”

  1. You inspire me to notice the small things….I put a few worms back on soil from which they’d crawled earlier this week. The word picture of the petals was lovely. I do pray for you each day and now I will pray for your walking to improve.

  2. Love…will cut some lilacs this morning. They bring back precious memories of my Grandma and my Moms bushes.
    Prayers for your nerve issues. I know how painful they are.

  3. Your comments remind me of a song we sing at church, “Fragrance Prayer”, written by Tom Booth.
    It starts out with, “Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere that I go.” It’s a beautiful song and I believe it can be found on YouTube.
    Thank you for your inspiration and allowing God to use you, to touch others. Grateful for YOU!

  4. Dear Sr. Chris,

    I am just now catching up on a few of your latest reflections. Each one is a gift and touches my heart deeply. Thank you for sharing your vision of God’s world through your beautiful thoughts and words. We are blessed by the fragrance of your love, joy and peace.

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