Monday, March 12, 2007

The scent of God?

I've been mulling about the sermon I'll be preaching on March 25. I have been thinking that I'll be improvising the sermon—that is, not writing it down, or at least not standing at the pulpit reading it, but one of the things that has drawn me about the gospel text, which is the woman anointing Jesus, is the fragrance.

Last night I found a place on-line (after looking unsuccessfully in several places locally) that sells essential oils and I ordered some spikenard, as well as frankincense and myrrh, among others. I'll hope it's here by March 25. I went rummaging through my drawers and crafts bags for fragrances this weekend. My daughter's Christmas gifts several years ago were potpourri boxes and sachets, and we had fragrance oils for those, and I had gotten some fragrances to add to massage oils, so I have quite a few essential oils around for one reason or another. I'm thinking that this might be a fragrant service. I have a lot of smells captured in bottles. The children will enjoy that...

Smell is the sense that is most primal and I'm wondering why we don't make more use of it in worship. Other than the smell of the coffee brewing—which actually isn't very strong, we don't do smells in Protestant churches. Is this another thing, like ritual, that we lost/threw away during the reformation?

Nard or spikenard was used in preparing a body for burial. I figure that's a coded way of saying that it's a potent enough scent to cover up the scent of a decaying, no—let's be blunt—a rotting body. If so, what primal associations would nard have? Yet, it's referred to as well in Song of Solomon: "While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance." It's originally from India, and we know from the gospel that it was costly then. Was it a scent the poor would have known? Currently it's not as expensive as myrrh, and it's recommended for rashes, wounds, and tension, and is known as a very spiritual fragrance, apparently just from its historic association with the anointing of Jesus. Is that cause or effect now? If I didn't know it was nard, would I be affected spiritually?

So am trying to think of how to use fragrances in a sermon, especially since we have a hospitality theme going on… Bring my bread machine—baking bread is a current fragrance of hospitality. But apparently nard had an association with welcoming guests as well…

Where is God in all this? What is the scent of God? The scent of redemption? The scents of love and welcome and acceptance and hospitality? How can/do we think of those? If we make worship more sensual, with more subconscious or primal connections, what might happen? There are ways to have anointing as movement as a part of the service, because it wasn't just that the fragrance was there, but that it was lavishly used, and anointing was a limited act—by priests for kings, for example. So what radical notion is it for a woman to anoint an itinerant teacher/prophet/social reformer? But it was also love and recognition, captured in the scent and in the act. How might that be translated into worship/a sermon and for this particular congregation? And we are told in Matthew and Mark that wherever the good news is told, her story will always be a part of it in remembrance of her … should we re-enact it? There is an interesting echo "in remembrance of her" with communion …

Maybe when I actually get the nard and smell it, I'll decide that there's a different way to go for this…. In the meantime, thinking of the unusual sparks creative possibility.

What is the scent of God? I asked my girlfriend as I was writing this: My answer: the smell after a rainstorm on a freshly plowed field. Her answer: the way the house smells when you are cooking, preparing for company. What's your answer?

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