by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM October 9, 2022
Lately I’ve been reflecting on scent. Who knows if it’s because here in the North the delicate perfume of summer is giving way to the earthiness of autumn. Or because scent can linger long after its source has moved on.
What I do know is that scent is often evocative. As one of those people blessed (and sometimes cursed) with a very refined sense of smell, I can be transported by a whiff of anything to another time and place, another person or thing. Every year for Christmas I would give my mother a bottle of her favorite perfume, Coty L’aimant. Although my mother has been deceased for over twenty-five years, I sometimes catch myself thinking of her at the same time that I notice the scent of her perfume wafting towards me as a person passes. There’s a certain type of talcum powder that immediately summons visions of my grandmother’s home with its window seat and overstuffed chair. And the aroma of cookies or cakes still warm from the oven—well, I’m grateful to say that there have been in my life a multitude of gifted bakers whom I recall with delight. And gratitude.
I wonder, can the aroma of a person’s soul linger in the same way? A room can go dark and unsettling after its occupant leaves. But a room can also hold a soft energy and sense of welcome long after the person whose presence filled the room departs. I believe the energies of love, the fragrance of the holy ones, can and do linger. In John’s Gospel (John 12:1-8) Jesus is enjoying dinner at the invitation of his friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. While Lazarus sits and Martha serves, Mary takes a jar of expensive nard, the equivalent of a laborer’s annual wages, pours it over the feet of Jesus, and wipes his feet with her hair. Can we hear the collective gasp of the stunned dinner guests?
John notes, “The whole house was filled was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Of course it was, John! In her extravagant gesture, Mary wasn’t taking note of anything but the feet of Jesus. I suspect no amount of scrubbing could dispel the scent of nard that spilled over and seeped into the floor or soaked the ground. I suspect that the fragrance of that oil lingered in the house in Bethany for many weeks. And I suspect the remembrance of Mary’s bold act remained even longer, much as lives given over to kindness and extravagant love leave behind a distinct spiritual fragrance.
I don’t claim to have an olfactory sense capable of sniffing out the saints among us. But perhaps you, like me, have occasionally been in the presence of a person whose very being radiates compassion, kindness, softness and spaciousness of heart. Long after such a person departs, the place where they once sat or stood is redolent of grace. The house, the space, is filled with the fragrance of their presence.
With the grace of the Holy One, may we encounter in our everyday living the saints whose lives are given over to tenderness, who carry the scent of holiness. With the grace of the Holy One, may we also be among that number, leaving a trail of blessings wherever we go.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may wish to place before you a fragrance you enjoy.
Call to mind a person who embodies the presence of God.
Reflect on the qualities that lead you to describe them as saintly.
Ask the Holy One to deepen those same qualities in you through deep, inner soul work.
Inhale your chosen scent and offer thanks for the holy ones in your life—including yourself.
Featured Image: Muldavi, Unsplash
Please hold in your prayer a joyful occasion: the wedding of my niece, Jennifer Kline, and Ryan Hilla on October 15. I’m honored to be a co-minister of their ceremony. May they be blessed with a love that is patient, kind, and enduring.
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