This morning, I sat in the back of Christ Church Cathedral to listen to one of our seminarians, Andrew Suitter, preach. We are a wonderfully diverse community at CCC, but we still internally self-segregate. Come in on a Sunday morning and you will find that those of us who had a warm bed and a shower last night will sit in the front and in the middle, and those of us who slept in shelters or on the streets last night gravitate toward the back and the sides.
So this morning, I sat in the back, and as I listened to Andrew unpack the reading from Corinthians, the fragrances of those sitting around me wafted into my nostrils. And they made me think.
What makes a smell good? What makes a smell bad?
What makes one smell of beauty and another of ugliness?
It's our minds, isn't it? Smell is just our brain interpreting nerve impulses. We have learned over time to interpret some of those positively and others negatively. We have evolved over time to privilege some odors over others. Why else would we not only pay huge sums of money for certain perfumes and Febreze and other "odor eliminators" a multimillion dollar industry?
It's our minds, isn't it? It's all in our minds.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul and Timothy urge us to "have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus" -- then goes on to talk about giving up privilege and emptying ourselves for the life of the world.
And so I wonder -- how does the mind of Christ smell? How are those nerve impulses that travel up the olfactory nerve interpreted in the mind of Christ?
I breathed in deeply through my nose. Fragrances of well-worn bodies, remnants of cigarettes and traces of urine filled me. Strong fragrances.
But who is to say they are good or bad?
What would they smell like in the mind of Christ?
I took another deep breath. I tried to imagine these smells as perfume. When I looked around and saw that some of the people they came from I could name ... and I knew ... and I love ... it became a lot easier.
This is not to glorify poverty. This is not to say that all of us shouldn't have a good bed and a hot shower and a place to go to the bathroom. Part of how we have evolved to interpret some smells as bad and others as good is because there are real health ramifications connected with them.
This is not to glorify poverty -- but it is to say that neither do those of us who are not bound by it need to fear it. None of us should hold our noses but breathe it in deeply, realizing that these are the fragrances of the beautiful people of God.
I am going to try to breathe deeply and smell differently from now on. When my first reaction is to hold my nose and pull away, I'm going to breathe in the perfumes of God's beloved. I'm going to try to remember that I have odors that others might want to pull away from, too -- and that I hope others will approach my odors the same way!
I'm going to try to smell with the mind of Christ. And hope that will be one small step in me giving myself for the world in Christ's name as well.