In fact, while spending more time at home, I’ve also developed a newfound love for/obsession with candles. I know I’m probably late to the game on this one, but I’ve finally discovered that there is something so calming and pleasant about simply lighting a candle and letting its aroma fill the room. It’s the little things, amiright?
I’m drawn to scents like lavender, eucalyptus, sandalwood, linen, sea salt, citrus, really anything light, fresh, and clean. Maybe a light floral undertone, but nothing too strong. And I’ve also discovered that candles are not difficult to find, even in the middle of a pandemic, so it should come as no surprise that I’ve actually acquired quite the collection over the past several months. I basically think I'm set on candles for all of 2021 at this point.
Acquiring all of these candles has brought to mind the significance of our sense of smell. In fact, out of all five senses, smell is perhaps the sense most closely connected to our memories. A whiff of the same perfume my grandmother wore will conjure up memories of time spent with her. I’ll smell someone grilling out in their backyard and instantly be seven again, playing in our neighborhood during the summer. Gardenias remind me of Easter morning, because those were the flowers we always picked and took to church for the flower cross. And of course, my parents’ house smells like home and all the memories packed into that word and that space. I’m sure you experience your own memories connected to certain scents as well.
But why is that? Are we just making it up? It turns out, this correlation between our sense of smell and memory is actually backed by science. In a 2012 article by Meghan Holohan, we learn a bit more about that connection. So, here is your science lesson for the day. The article reads,
“After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories… This close relationship between the olfactory and the amygdala is one of the reason odors cause a spark of nostalgia…Also at play is a relationship between the olfactory system and the hippocampus, which is critical to developing memories.”
I know those were some complicated words, but I’ll link to the article in the show notes if you’d like to read more. It’s clear that smell is connected to memory. And while this podcast isn’t about memory specifically, it is in response to our call to remember. So even though the sense of smell can be a bit awkward depending on the circumstances, I do wonder if there might be a connection that includes our faith as well - if the idea of smell can aid us as we recall God’s presence and faithfulness in our lives, and our purpose in light of that remembrance.
It turns out, that connection does exist. Throughout the Old Testament, we read about the aroma or fragrance of a sacrifice of incense being pleasing to God. Smell was an important part of the relationship between God and God’s people. But in the New Testament, after Jesus conquered sin on the cross, we read about in a slightly different way, as the fragrance or aroma of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16, Paul writes,
“14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?”
These verses remind us that, as followers of Jesus, as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, we carry the fragrance of Jesus and we are the aroma of Christ. But what does that even mean? Smell is a bit awkward at first glance, right?
When I lived outside of Atlanta, there was a tiny little restaurant called the Oak Street Cafe right down the street from the church where I worked. I recently learned that they are permanently closed, which is a shame because their grilled cheese was amazing. But anyway, we could always tell if someone from work went to lunch there because when they came back they smelled just like it. It was incredibly distinct, to say the least. Whether that was a good or bad thing was determined by each individual nose, but to this day, I’m pretty sure I would recognize it. The scent of sitting in that cafe stuck with you. I can’t explain it - I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but you couldn’t leave the Oak Street Cafe without it leaving its unique smelling mark on you.
I know that’s kind of a ridiculous example, but I think something similar happens when we are following Jesus. Obviously we don’t actually, literally smell different. But when our faith is informing us, impacting us, transforming us, our lives will begin to reflect what we say we believe. People will be able to tell that we know and have been impacted by Jesus because our lives, actions, desires, decisions and priorities will be distinct. Just like certain scents evoke certain memories, being the aroma of Christ means that we remind others of Jesus, evoking the character of Christ in the world around us.
When we do the right, Christ-like thing even behind closed doors, we remind others of integrity, honesty, and faithfulness.
When we live our lives with open hands, with unclenched fists, we remind others of generosit, and surrender.
When we take the time to notice the unnoticed and to see the unseen, we remind others of their value, worth, and dignity.
When we reach out across what divides us, beyond lines in the sand, we remind others of reconciliation and unity and the hard kind of love.
When we refuse to give in to cynicism in this world around us, when we continue to look up even when circumstances beg us to look down, we remind others of hope, joy, and redemption.
When we choose to rest, to not do it all, we remind others of peace and humility.
When we prioritize our faith and let it influence the people we’re becoming, we remind others that there might be something more, something different, something better.
Today, remember, you are the aroma of Christ. We help to spread that life-giving fragrance wherever we go, to whomever we meet. May our lives evoke what is true about Jesus, holy and pleasing to God.