Smell of the Spirit
Yesterday was a beautiful day. As usual, in the late afternoon I changed clothes and headed to the local Metroparks for my run or, sometimes, a run that slows to a walk. I love the Metroparks. It is a park system that circles my fair city…some 70 miles in total. On nice days one sees the runners, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, women with baby carriages, and other sundry people. It is a wonderful venue for those of us urbanites and suburbanites. Nature is a short distance away.
Yesterday was one of those “slower than usual days.” In fact, it would be a lie to suggest that I went for a run. But it was beautiful and I did not care. I was outside; I was mobile; and I was enjoying myself. As I have commented so often, in such a state I think people are sitting ducks for spiritual experiences.
My spiritual experience was sneakily ordinary. But most of my spiritual experiences are so ordinary they could easily and summarily be dismissed by the most amateur atheist. In a debate I could not do a very good job of defending the experience as spiritual. But again I did not care. If there were an amateur atheist around, he or she did not bother me. In fact, I did not even grasp the experience as spiritual until it was over and I was pondering it. Let me explain.
I was ambling along (maybe this is the in-between of the walk and the run!). I saw a truck approaching on the roadway that runs along the path. It was a pickup truck. But the truck was piled high with bales of hay. I recall thinking that was unusual. This is not a farming community like the one of my childhood. But I also know there are some horses around and I know they have to eat.
However, it was not the sight of the truck that did it. That was not spiritual. As the truck passed by me and disappeared behind me, the smell began to fill the air. It was not a strong smell, but it was more than a faint smell. I recognized it instantly. All those years on a farm where summer after summer I spent considerable time in the hayfield. I know when some farmer has “mowed hay” and a couple days later after it cures, that same farmer will bring the hay to the barn.
The smell lingered in the air for a few minutes. Because I was going so slowly, I was able to savor the smell. It awakens deep memories in me. That smell is tinged with nostalgia. As I ponder it, I realize that smell effects a double connection. It connects me to people. In my case those people are my father, my grandfather, and sometimes my uncle. Those were the ones with whom I was always connected to when we were “making hay.” It was never a solitary endeavor back in those days.
Secondly, that smell effects a connection to God---to the Spirit. It is much more difficult for me to explain this connection. For me it is akin to what I think it must have been like for the high priest to go into the Holy of Holies and come face to face with God. What do you say when you emerge from the Holy of Holies? Like I think must be true of the high priest, I emerge from my hay experience of the Spirit with all the verbal dexterity of a bumbling idiot! I went to the mountain and have no words adequate to describe the experience.
Then I laughed out loud. Had anyone been close to me, they would legitimately assume I was a bumbling idiot! I laughed because it hit me. I know what the smell of the Spirit is! That is funny, even as I type it. I never, ever thought about whether the Spirit smells. And for sure, had I concluded the Spirit did smell, I could not have come up with one idea. But now I know.
I would not pretend baled hay will do it for everyone. In fact, I doubt that the Spirit would work that way with very many people. You see, it is not the hay. It is the connection(s) that come with and through the hay. The hay is the occasion and the medium for the spiritual connections I had and still have. It is spiritual because it connects me to God and to some of God’s people.
If I think about it further, I begin to grasp the significance of incense. When I go to Catholic Mass, one of my favorite moments is when the priest begins to use the incense around the altar. Again, the Spirit begins to smell. I realize that Quakers don’t use this sensory faculty very much. I was not nurtured to smell the Spirit.
I wonder how many avenues the Spirit uses to “smell up a place?” I am sure it is more than I can guess. Clearly, this is an area of some spiritual growth for me. Of course, not all smells are conducive to the Spirit. There really are some stinky spots in our world! And there are many “fake” smells in our contemporary world: aftershave, perfumes, etc. I doubt that the Spirit ever uses these.
Guess I will have to keep my nose open! The Spirit is all around.