spiritual life

Does faith have a scent?

“Her love was like lavender, delicate and melancholy.” Laura Chouette, The Painting of Mrs. Ravensbrook

In the deep of winter, I bought a bottle of herbs de Provence. While I do cook with it, my primary intention was to sniff the stuff. Lavender, basil, fennel, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme. It’s pretty much summer in a bottle.

This came to mind a couple of days ago when I heard a minister speaking about a rather unusual New Testament scene. One that only slightly precedes the unfolding horror and ecstasy of Holy Week.

You may have read it in John 12. It’s that almost surreal evening when Mary (part of the sibling trio who frequently hosted Jesus and the Apostles in their home) breaks open a container of extravagantly expensive perfume. She uses it to anoint Jesus’s feet. Which she then wipes dry with her hair.

Judas, the apostle who is both traitor and thief, complains. Not about the cultural unacceptability and intimacy of touch. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, he says.

As the fragrance fills the house — a house where Jesus has recently resurrected Mary’s brother from death so gripping he stank with it — Jesus has an unusual reply. Mary is pre-anointing Me for burial, Jesus says, suggesting her extraordinary act is directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In English, the perfume is called “nard” or “spikenard.” This suggests lavender oil. Whether or not this is historically accurate, it is the scent that I imagine when I read this passage. Clean, spicy, comforting. The kind of scent one wants on bed linens and sleepwear.

Such a fragrance must have been welcome. These final days before the crucifixion are tense. The gospel of John especially conveys the anxiety, the confusion. There’s been the stench of death. The scent of fear. The scent of impending panic.

Yet, in the midst of all of this spiritual winter arrives the very smell of life. And, it fills the house. Could this not be compared to the incense that burns in heaven’s throne room, a fragrance composed of believers’ prayers?

The scent of faith. A whiff of devotion and love and a longing for forever.

It made sense to Jesus then. It makes sense now, in another time of deep anxiety and confusion. Let us pour out our joys, thoughts and fears. And may the fragrance of faith fill not only our house but heaven’s throne room.

17 thoughts on “Does faith have a scent?”

  1. This is so interesting, especially since I just did a post on essential oils for anxiety/depression. Lavender, of course, is one of the top ten and I’m sure Frankincense was in that perfume! Probably Myrrh as well.
    I love using them and I know for a fact that they work. Kind of off topic, but yesterday, and today, I have been diffusing a citrus blend and wow, it woke me up, helped me focus, and I stayed energetic all day long!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Citrus is almost as good as coffee. 🙂 I’m kind of a menace with a sprayer. I’ve been using a combo of sandalwood and lavender that I really like. Right now, though, all the windows are open. Spring air!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow. That is really something to think about. I wonder if the soldier who “won” the robe was the one who declared His deity? Can you imagine it, wearing Jesus’s actual clothes!!? Thanks! I’ll be thinking about this one all day. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I knew my first hubby was dying, I went down to the gift shop and bought natural perfumed lotion, and rubbed his body with it. I figured that even though he was in a induced coma, he might be aware of it.
    Later I was told that the aboriginals traditionally did that here. Don’t know if it is true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Sorry for that loss in your life. But, that is a beautiful idea, surrounding a dying person with wonderful sounds and smells and sights. We have a lot to learn from how people did things in simpler times. 🙂


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