“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world.” John 12:46
“Anyone who has ears to hear should listen and understand.” Mark 4:9
“We are the salt of the earth.” Matt 5:15
“We are the fragrance of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8
“Jesus reached out his hand and touched him…” Matt 8:3
“All……Around……You…..” the female voice whispers from various points in the local movie theatre, demonstrating the sophisticated audio system that gives the experience of being surrounded by sound. During the preparation for Christmas, we can inevitably be surrounded by sounds, sights, and smells- all exclaiming, “CHRISTMAS!”
Some of us observe Advent, where we turn our attention to waiting and preparing room in our hearts for the coming Messiah (and pressing out our daily dose of chocolate from the Advent calendar!). No matter your spiritual heritage, the month of December is usually full of gatherings, music, food, gifts, work, traditions, and preparations. Sometimes when the season ends, we wonder if we interacted with God in the midst of it all. And perhaps that is the key- God is in the midst of it all.
One of the common buzzwords we hear today is “Simplify.” Seminars, podcasts, and articles abound offering advice on how to simplify our lives, especially at Christmas. We are encouraged to keep things simple and focus on what’s important. Relationships. How about the most important relationship of all? The one we have with God. Can we prepare Him room in our hearts this season through our senses?
How does God speak to you? If you’re like most of us, it’s not through a dramatic experience or a bolt of lightning. At the end of the day, when I pause to think about where I encountered God during my day, I realize that I found God in the stuff of ordinary life. And most often, God speaks to me using the language I know best- the language of my five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
Author Bobby Gross says that Christmas is a season of wonder, but it’s precisely in this “wonder” that we face impediments. Once we age past childhood, we often replace wonder with facts and opinions. And we miss out. Jesus instructs us to become simple and elemental -like children -to experience the kingdom of God. (Matthew 11) Attending to our senses is one of the ways we can become childlike and filled with wonder. What amazing things, these senses of ours!
Physical senses can be windows into our spiritual senses: the eyes of our hearts, ears that listen and understand, tasting the goodness of the Lord, living as the fragrance of Jesus within our culture, and touching others with the love of Christ.
What if you intentionally pause to notice the creativity and variety of the gifts of God through your senses this Christmas season? Just keep it simple; pause to enjoy what you perceive with your senses, then pause again to thank God for what you experience. Find God in the good senses you’ve been given. They’re a gift. All is gift, says St. Ignatius of Loyola. Enjoy the gift.
Respond – “SLOW”
What a gift it is to see! Jesus spoke of looking but not really seeing. Paul prayed that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened. Ephesians 1:18. May God give us His eyes to appreciate the beauty and artistry around us, His creativity in nature, as well as the people He created in His image. May we see what we might otherwise miss; His love for us and those that need His love through us.
Will you delight in the beauty of our Father’s world? He has created the colors, creatures, and landscapes all for His pleasure and ours.
The lights and decorations of the season- elaborate preparations for the arrival of the King!
Notice the beauty of the interaction between people; loved ones, children, people serving others. Perhaps you’ll see a need God is inviting you to meet.
Do you see the pain or frustration behind the brave smile or the sharp-tongued response of someone with whom you interact? Be gentle. Be kind.
Maybe God will let you see the deep longing and struggle of someone grieving the presence of what once was, and will give you the gift of comfort to share.
What a fantastic gift it is to hear the melodies of life around us! From the unique songs of birds to the magnificent compositions of gifted musicians. Immerse yourself in sounds!
May we all have “…ears to hear.” May we take to heart the messages and melodies from the hymns and carols that tell the story of Jesus, and let them fill our hearts with great joy. May we be faithful listeners who give the gift of dignity to another’s story by listening without judgment or needing to fix.
May we each hear the loving voice of God reminding us that the gift of Jesus Messiah is especially for us!
So many Christmas memories revolve around our sense of taste. Favorite family foods and traditions. Food critics are masters at finding just the right word to describe the taste of the foods they review. Will you savor the memories of flavors from the past and explore new tastes and smells, lingering long enough to remember that these are gifts from God? Ps 34:8 tells us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
We remember His goodness to us as we share a meal, enjoying the sweetness of relationships. We also remember other tastes; the bitterness of suffering, the salt that enhances flavor, but also stings in a wound. A sour taste can be enjoyable or an example of food or a relationship that has gone bad.
I imagine many of us remember opening the front door to our homes, now or in childhood, to be greeted by the aroma of something in the oven- a lovely aroma or epic cooking fail! The aromas of Christmas stimulate so many memories! Just yesterday, I stood at my spice cabinet and smelled numerous spices and marveled at God’s creativity and love to give us such a wide variety of aromas and fragrances to enjoy. Spices and gardens and freshness after a rain! Life and death have this olfactory memory as well, hard to describe.
The Old Testament is full of references to prayers and sacrifices as soothing aromas to God. Today, many use essential oils for their healing fragrances. Saint Paul tells us that as Jesus’ followers, our lives are a Christ-like fragrance to those around us. The sense of smell provides us with a simple, but meaningful way to connect with God as we sift through memories and their meanings, or simply experience a fragrance we label as “heavenly!”
Researchers say that more of our memories are associated with smells than any other sense, using different brain pathways and that many remain permanently etched in our minds. Here’s to making new fragrant memories this Christmas!
The sense of touch is the one sense that humans cannot live without. In an observation made from a Romanian orphanage, due to the scarcity of caregivers, babies who experienced little physical touch failed to thrive and frequently became ill, with shorter life spans.
The need for meaningful touch continues throughout our lives. Without it, even as adults, we become withdrawn and emotionally unhealthy. Neuroscience tells us that there are two pathways- a sensory/factual pathway of processing touch, and a social/emotional pathway that leads to well-being. God designed us to touch one another meaningfully.
Have you experienced the “three-breath hug”? Americans are famous for our quick, impersonal hugs. Instead, try hugging someone you’re close to for the amount of time it takes to take and release three deep breaths. Awkward at first, perhaps, but the release of oxytocin and feeling of well-being is remarkable. And spiritually, practice being with God for longer than just a “quick spiritual hug.” Becoming open to experiences with the gift of our five senses might just be the simple gift that makes this Christmas one to savor.
May we all accept the invitation to “Come to Our Senses!”