Spiritual Formation

The Scent of God

"Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived." – Helen Keller by Captain Stephanie Pavlakis

Each evening when my two-year-old peels off her sweaty socks, the first thing she does is shove those adorable chubby feet into my face and yell, “Stinky!” She does it not to be a pint-sized bully, but because she knows I love it. Her smelly little feet have a special kind of stink that only comes with baby feet, and I want to soak it all in. Smells are important. There are safety concerns around smelling, like being able to smell smoke even if you don’t see a fire. Unmistakable are the memories and feelings invoked by certain smells. The smell of freshly cut grass reminds me of childhood summer days under the big Montana sky. The aroma of Antonio Banderas cologne on my husband instantly brings me back to our early days of dating. Vanilla extract is tied to generations gathered in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies together.

These smells come with not just nostalgic memories and sweet feelings, but with images of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life. Each scent brings with it an opportunity to pause, to breathe in deeply and to reflect on the scent of God. In the smells of my past, I am reminded of a God who knows me intimately and grants me the desires of my heart. I smell a good God who has blessed me in many ways, which I sometimes take for granted. I inhale the scent of God, who has given me the breath of life and fills me with an abundance of life again and again.

I am not naive enough to believe that all smells are pleasant and strung to happy memories. However, I can breathe in and pause even in the nasty smells; that trigger trauma, anxiety or regret. I can choose to inhale them and turn them over to God. Yahweh, whose very name is representative of breathing, can take the polluted air of our broken past and turn it into something beautiful. I can smell the fear and breathe out assurance. I can inhale anxiety and exhale peace. I can breathe in pain and breathe out healing. It is not through my own willpower, but because of His power. Knowing His presence is transformative in every sense, even in the sense of smell. 

Experiencing GOD

  • As you go about your day, notice the smells that stand out to you. What might God be bringing to your attention through this scent? Is it a pleasant memory to be thankful for? A painful one to turn over to the Lord? Don’t rush. Experience it through Him.
  • This week try the spiritual practice of Breath Prayer.

Supporting Scripture

“For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Job 33:4