Noses and Nostalgia by Nancy Taylor

The air is heavy today with the scent of rain and fall. It’s funny how our sense of smell can instantly transport us to another time and place. One whiff of hedgerows and roses and I’m back in England. Salty sea air wafting on the breeze transports me to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Scotch pines swaying in the breeze take me to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. A particular cologne brings back all the feelings of young love because that’s what my husband wore when we were dating. The smell of cedar brings me back to days of playing in our walk-in cedar closet as a child. Gasoline and lawn clippings and burgers on the grill are all the best scents of summer. Maybe it’s no mistake that the words nostril and nostalgia are so similar.

The funny thing is, we can’t really describe a smell the way we can describe a sight or taste or sound or feeling. It’s something you have to experience for yourself, and it’s not always an experience we choose. Scientists tell us that the sense of smell is the most direct of all our senses. As we breathe in, tiny nerves transmit information to our brains. The effect of a smell is instantaneous, unedited, and visceral. And the information that enters our brains through our noses lodges in the long-term memory section of our brain. The effects of what we breathe in without even knowing it are long-lasting and inescapable. That is why smells have the power to bring up long-buried emotions of joy or sorrow, reduce our stress and improve our cognitive performance.

Perhaps the power of scent was on Paul's mind when he wrote, “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16) Christians have a unique smell about us. We carry with us and in us the life of the Spirit, and he creates in us rivers of living water, which carries the scent of life and growth and hope. The promise of true life.

The scent of a Christian is interpreted differently by different people, just as the smell of grass clippings makes one person think of happy summer days and another think of miserable allergies. Those who are being drawn to life in Christ know that it is the aroma of the life-giving love of God, and to them it is the smell of life. The presence of another believer transports them to the glorious home they will one day share as they live in God’s presence. It is a tangible reminder of the worldwide family that we became part of when we believed in Jesus.

Those who have turned their back on God associate Christians with judgment because a Christian’s life of love and obedience to God makes theme realize that their own life stinks of death and destruction. To them, Christians reek of death. Maybe they are not too far off, because after all we are carrying in our bodies the death of Christ, the death which brings life.

There is another aspect to the scent of a Christian—we are, in our very existence as well as in our acts of love and worship, a fragrant offering to God. The prayers we breathe out and the good deeds we do for others are like the sweet aroma of sacrificial incense wafting up to him. (Leviticus 1:17) We are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18) In these ways we imitate Christ, who “has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 5:2) Regardless of how we are viewed by those around us, the scent of life and love that clings to us as believers is pleasing to God. It is a sign that we are a living sacrifice to him, that we have offered ourselves, body and soul, in worship to the Creator.

So the next time a scent takes you by surprise and transports you like a magic carpet to another time and place, think of the aroma of your life. Are you letting Christ flow through you so that you bring the scent of life to those around you? Are your attitudes and actions a sacrifice of praise that releases a sweet aroma pleasing to the Lord?


Follow Nancy's blog on her website: nancytaylorwrites.