My kid’s got a nose on her.
I don’t mean a glaring, unfortunate feature. I mean, she has a sensitive olefactory device. She has been known to tell her daddy that he smells like “beard.” (Translation: something involving hops). Or to tell her brother, “Baby brother, you smell like waffles!” No man or child in her life will ever be able to sneak a cigarette, that’s for sure. She will never be able to walk by a bakery un-tempted. She will never be able to live in a place that has a damp carpet smell. Or cats.
I came home from work a few nights ago, and we were sitting on the couch together. She piped up, “what do you smell like?” Uh oh. “I don’t know–what do i smell like?”
“Um…from church!” “I smell like I came from church?”
“Yeah! Were there people there?” “A few.” “Did you sing songs?” “No.” “Why not?”
Commence discussion about the difference between worship and a board meeting. Not sure she gets it. But I am glad that she knows what church smells like. That is something.
I remember being small. I remember my dad coming home from work. I remember the chill of outside lingering on his coat as he hugged me. And yes, i distinctly remember the smell of “from work.” Though I’m sure his office was not always a happy place, it is a happy scent in memory because of its connection to him coming home, and the simple routines of dinner, books, and bed time.
In this season, our scent-triggers are especially sensitive, and powerfully tied to memory. I have “Christmas smells” that I purchase in candle form every year, one for work and one for home. They take me back to dorm rooms and libraries, in times of frantic finals preparation, with the promise of a long break to follow. They take me to church offices of Christmas-past. They take me to smaller apartments, pre-baby days, and more recent family gatherings.
That fresh-cut pine smell can take you back a million miles. Food smells are connected to people and places long gone, or maybe just not seen in awhile. Wood smoke is a simple comfort for more than just the glow of flame. That smell has a life of its own.
I can’t tell you what church smells like. I’m pretty sure my girl can’t, either. But hey, we know it when we smell it, and it is something good and life-giving that lingers on our clothes.
Far too many people must wander this Advent wilderness without knowing the smell of church; or, knowing it, but not in a way that brings comfort and joy. It is my deepest hope that, while these folks may not call it “Church,” that scent lingers with them for a moment anyway upon crossing our path. I hope it can cling to them as the warmth of community; the joy of worship; and the power of story.
For those of us who carry the scent of the gospel on our being–may we wear it well. It may not come from the fragrance counter at the mall, but it is memory; it is promise; it is hope incarnate. And whatever they may call it, the waiting world can smell it a mile away.