Dear sheltered-in-peace friends!
When I was a child, my grandmother used to do this odd thing. We would walk through a forest and she would suddenly stop and say: “Do you smell it?” We probably nodded and kept going. But she insisted that we had to smell the wood and the wet grass and moss. “Inhale it, deeply!”, she said. And we stood and opened our nostrils and took a deep breath. Inhale – exhale! “Now, you can smell it.“, she claimed.
Today, I tell my kids the same thing, of course. (I came to realize that I carry on especially the odd behavior of my ancestors…) They already wait for my exclamations. If I forget to mention it at all, my daughter will gracefully remind me: “Mom, you really like how the trees smell, right? Let’s take a deep breath.” And we will stop for a couple of seconds and just enjoy ourselves (and the trees).
I remember my life, the people and places and seasons in odors and aromas. The smell of burned coal through a chimney reminds me of my grandparents’ neighborhood. Even while I wrote this sentence, I felt it crawling up my nose. The moldy fragrance of wet basements scent like summer and winter vacation in our family’s cottage, and also like week-long trips in our foldboat. The other day, while walking home from the beach, my daughter stopped, snuggled her nose against my arm and said: “Mom, you smell like summer.” And I explained: “That’s the sweet aroma of sun on one’s skin.” And Toni said: “It’s the best smell on earth.”
I just learned (thank you, Google), that every person can at least smell one trillion (don’t ask me how many zeros that number has) different odorants. Apparently, that is roughly the number of hair on every single person living in the cities of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Kansas City, combined. (I guess, that comparison tells us more about Aaron Sathyanesan who wrote the article than anything else. It basically underlines the impression, that we are talking huge numbers here. Got it.) We are true olfactory experts.
There are studies out there (I read years ago, so don’t quote me and I am too tired to google more), that we choose our sexual partners mostly by means of smelling. I can confirm, my husband scents lovely (to me).
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for the Spirit of God is ruach. It derives from the verb ruach. And this small verb means to breathe, to blow and to smell (this is typical for Hebrew by the way that one word has many different meanings, which makes it so much fun to translate Hebrew!! Seriously.) The Spirit blows around us, we breathe it in and finally get to smell it.
“Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) So, the first thing a human being ever smelled, was God’s Spirit. That’s pretty spiritual. It’s not surprising that the nostrils were considered to be the residence of the spirit. (And the intestines were said to be the place of emotion and felling, speaking of butterflies in one’s stomach.) This is ancient biology and psychology and spirituality.
So, how does God smell? My answer: Like sun on the skin, like saltwater of the Bay, like freshly mowed grass, like port wine for Holy Communion, like coffee during fellowship, like sweaty fellow citizen on BART, like my son’s head when he sleeps, like my daughter’s hair, like… Ok, you don’t really want me to list the one trillion different odors of God, right now. Because I live and smell “as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils” (Job 27:3).
Have an ambrosial day today (and let me know what God smells like for you),