inhaling the scent of hope
Life can be chaotic at times: bills, traffic, shopping, work, family, romance, are ingredients that, when mixed together excessively, create a ferment that builds pressure into the walls of our souls, as well as the walls of our homes.
It was against such a backdrop of chaos that I found myself with a rare Wednesday off last week, and rarer still for early March in Seattle, the weather was clear - crisp, as is appropriate for early March, but mercifully cloudless. My skis were in the car by 8AM and by 9:30 I was carving some Sabbath healing into my soul, negotiating the friendly terrain, which was still locked in the dead of winter, with temperatures well below freezing.
As the morning wore on, I was making my way down a wide open slope, pointing my skis straight down and reveling in the wind. I slowed and dropped into the woods in search of some powder. As I made my way slowly into the trees I was suddenly assaulted with an aroma from another time and place. I stopped, inhaling deeper, the scent of fir sap, bleeding from the trees. Right there, in the midst of all the snow and ice, the reminder of spring! I stopped skiing to simply inhale two or three breaths, aromatherapy in the best sense of the word - the reminder of warmer days that once were, and that once shall be again.
In the midst of winter, the merest hints of spring fill the soul with hope. And this truth, I believe, is significant when we consider our calling as Christ followers. Paul, in describing his life and ministry, calls himself the 'fragrance of Christ'. We're locked, it seems, in the dead of winter as a species. There's human trafficking, and croplands disappearing, and the threat of terror, not to mention our more personal lows, seen in our addictions, broken relationships, anxieties, health problems, and dark cold places that are found in each human heart. Yes, it's winter indeed.
How do we deal with the reality of winter? Well, in our culture, it appears that we've taken up skiing with a vengeance. That's the solution - keep moving and you'll keep warm. As an added bonus you'll be too busy and too tired to ponder the things that matter because if you ponder them too deeply, you'll either get depressed or get religion, and neither option is very appealing for lots of people. Thus it is that our world is filled with countless diversions and obligations so that time for reflection, let alone silence, is left wanting. We're busy, sure enough. But it's precisely because we're busy that we don't notice the conspicuous absence of meaning, of scent.
Ah, but then, you can pause for just a moment, and it's there. The hint of warmth, hint of a thaw. That's what the church is supposed to be isn't it - when we're making beautiful art, or loving orphans, or working on the front lines to get food and water to places lacking them, or opening our homes and throwing parties. I love that, because the scent is both a reminder and foretelling. It's reminder because 'eternity is in our hearts' as the preacher in Ecclesiastes explained. Our longings for justice, beauty, spirituality, and meaning are deeply embedded in our souls. Thus it is that when we see hints of these things, something in us awakens, a primal affirmation that this is the way it ought to be. It's a foretelling because moments like these are making the reality of Christ's reign visible, albeit in a small way now, offering hope for a better, warmer, world.
Of course, if we're to bear the aroma, we'll need to rooted in the soil that is Christ's life. When that's the case, people will smell the warmth - if you're too addicted to skiing, the smell might be depressing. But there are some for whom the hint of spring will awaken frozen souls from hibernation, opening the way for Christ.