I have always had an abnormally sensitive sense of smell. I am the person who compliments friends on different lotions and perfumes, the one who can describe how each friend’s house has a distinct smell, and the one who can often guess which particular fragrance someone is wearing. Oh yeah, I am also the one who receives some pretty weird looks for saying things like, “Ooo, this tastes like the smell of Christmas” when I sipped my first Chai tea latte at Starbucks. I finally have received a little validation that I am not hopelessly weird from the scientific studies that have officially linked sense of smell and memories . . . . so yes, I have a Christmas lotion, a springtime perfume, a summer scent, because over time, certain fragrances remind me of specific memories.
Lest you think I’m crazy, the use of smells to bring back memories works on a lot of people. Many realtors put cookies in the oven, or set a pot of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla, to boil when trying to sell a home. Why? Because certain smells just seem to evoke images of home. They can make you pause, inhale deeply, and think, “Yeah. This feels like home.”
As one who has journeyed far and wide to discover her calling, I have struggled throughout the years to describe how, exactly, I realized that I was called into ministry. The simplest way I can say it is that worship simply feels like home to me. I have served on staff at several different congregations, preached at many more, and attended all different styles of worship services. I have lived in three different states and traveled to eleven different countries, and I have worshipped in all those different locations. The one unifying element to all of my different settings and circumstances, other than the presence of a Starbucks, was no matter where I was worship felt like coming home.
All this sounded sort of strange . . . that is, until I was reminded of the scripture passages that describe fragrant offerings of worship . . . that tell of Christ being offered as a fragrant offering (Eph.5), or that tell us that we are the aroma of Christ in the world (2 Cor. 2). These verses helped me understand why I often go into a worship service, breathe in deeply, and feel as if I have come home. It is as if the presence of God is the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven, and the act of worship is like catching that familiar whiff of grandma’s perfume. Those smells that remind me that I have come home—home to God’s welcoming embrace—no matter where I am geographically, spiritually, or emotionally.
Kristy Bay is associate pastor of youth and education, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, Athens, Georgia.