There is a very distinct smell to autumn. As the crisp cooler air nips at my ears, I can’t help but notice the damp but fresh earthy fragrance of fallen leaves. And every single year kicking through them on my walk reminds me of my childhood when we would frolic in a huge pile we had raked up. I would then fashion them into rooms, creating lines to distinguish the kitchen from the living room. Or where I played as a girl under the towering branches of mature pine trees, their needles would turn brown in autumn covering the ground beneath, saturating the air with their strong aroma. Then, imagining I was Sacagawea, I’d create a stick tripod over a make-believe fire pit cooking with the old pans and cans Grandma would reluctantly relinquish to me after some prolonged begging. Children are good at that as I’m sure you know.
Fall also hold a joyous anticipation of winter snowfalls and cider, each season possessing its own unique smells, but nothing tops the aromas of canning summer’s bounteous gifts, hot chocolate and crackling fireplaces as they are lit anew for the first time. Of all our senses, smell evokes memories of the past more than any other, more than visual cues and more than touch. Our sense of smell is often called our memory sense.
Remembering the past is a precious gift of aging. Recently I took a road trip when we visited our former work mate and dear friend, and my cousin whom I hadn’t seen in 12 years. Honestly, the sweetest part of the visits were the mutual recollections of days gone by: winters at a cottage fishing and skiing, pulling pranks at work and other funny flukes, favourite foods and meals together, and even bittersweet times when a loved one had passed, the highs and lows of each of our lives where they intersected. I truly relish reminiscing, storing up these video clips in a library in my mind where I can pull them out again and smile whenever I wish or whenever a certain smell brings them to mind. Yes, this is indeed a treasured gift, one that becomes more sweet and deep and rich with each passing year.
There are so very many references in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, about fragrances the Lord finds pleasing. I am intrigued, fascinated by this oh so human attribute that we share with the God of the universe. In Numbers 15:3 the aroma of a burnt animal sacrifice was found pleasing to the Lord. In Exodus 29:18 they burnt food offerings too. (also Leviticus 3:16) An incense altar was even located in the temple and the incense used was not ever for personal use. It was sacred. The wise men brought expensive and treasured fragrant gifts of frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. (Matthew 2:11) Today many churches still burn incense. I see a place for such customs and ritual. It provides us a way to offer our Father something we already know he finds pleasing, another way we can worship the King of Kings. It creates a solemn holy space of reverence and awe reminding us that we are in the presence of the Almighty.
All of this makes me ponder two things. Just as our sense of smell evokes memory, did God instill this in us so that we would be reminded of his goodness over the years as we walk down memory lane? As we look back over the joys and the sorrows of our lives, perhaps the fragrance of our own lives help to serve as milestones of his faithfulness to us. We are reminded of the times of loneliness and despair, when we came oh so close to giving up on our faith but he sought us out. He rescued us from the depths! We remember how in our pain and suffering we can see he was there alongside us every step. In our senior years when sudden smells stir our recollection, we can look back with hearts full of praise and gratitude as we see his faithfulness. Reminiscing about God’s goodness is like refueling enabling us to drive on.
But what does my life smell like to him? Does he find my life, my offering, a pleasing aroma?
2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT
“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.”
Do you know those Christians who leave a scent hanging in the air just by their actions and their kindness? And some folks show such love that their aroma lingers long after they are gone. Lord, may we each press toward that mark!
We are the fragrance of Christ in the world because he lives in us. Everywhere we go we give off the smell of Jesus to others. Don’t underestimate the power of your “aroma”.