Jan 12, 2009

Spiritual Scents

Wow! My first post. Thanks for listening! ~ Stacy Johnson

I recently finished up a class at ASU titled Writing Reflective Essays. The whole class was geared around taking a look at your personal life and writing about it. Well, there is nothing I know more about than me, so I figured it was an easy A. Little did I know that I would learn more than I bargained. I have used this bit of information as I write about myself and as I work on publishing the life stories of those around me (cause that is what I love to write about.)

During the first week of school, we took a serious look at memory. Chapter three in the textbook Tell It Slant, by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, defines different types of memories; earliest memory, metaphorical memory, muscle memory, and the five senses of memory. The five senses of memory reminded me of an enrichment meeting that took place just a week before. The meeting was all about how we use our different senses to listen to the Spirit. It was beautifully done and definitely a meeting I treasured attending.

The sense that particularly caught my attention was the sense of smell. The textbook quotes Helen Keller’s autobiography by saying, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of mils and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief.” Similarly, in our enrichment meeting, we discussed the ways different smells help us listen to the Spirit. We took a few moments and thought of the different ways that smells affect us. I came up with two examples, the smell of my Gram’s house and the smell of bleach. How do these help me listen to the spirit? I’ll briefly explain.

All my life, my Gram’s kitchen has had the same smell – delicious. There was always something cooking in the kitchen; homemade soup, casseroles, rolls, and the best grilled cheese sandwiches you have ever tasted. Without fail, my Grams would dish up some soup into a recycled Miracle Whip jar or some casserole into an old plastic container and ask me to run it to this neighbor or that one. I didn’t know why they needed the food; I just knew that my Grams was always giving. When I was older and would walk through the grocery store, I would get a whiff of soup from the deli counter or pass through the bakery and smell the fresh baked goods. Do you know what my first thoughts were? I wondered who Grams was taking dinner to that day. So how is that learning to listen to the Spirit? As an adult, I’ve tried to take it one step further. When I get that whiff of a delicious meal or baked goods, my first thought is always, “is there someone I know who might need a meal tonight?” Do I always follow through with that thought? I’m still working on that part.

My second example is the smell of bleach. You cannot know the joy I feel when I smell that regular old smell of plain old Clorox bleach. Really, it is the chlorine smell that I love. You know that smell, when you enter the temple through the baptistry. It is clean, it is pure. I love it and I love being in the temple. How does that help me listen to the spirit? Do you know that smell at the public pool? Or when you are bleaching a load of whites in the laundry? I even found a candle that has a similar smell and I burn it when I’m out of things that need bleaching:) That same smell reminds me that I need to go to the temple more often. Do I always follow through with that thought? I’m still working on that part.

The book goes on to say that smell is intimately tied up with breath, a function of our bodies that works continually, day and night, keeping us alive, it keys us into the memories that evoke the continual ebb and flow of experience. They can be innocent, like the smell of a Barbie doll or play dough, and that reminds you of how precious your children are. Maybe it is that lemon Pledge smell just after you finish dusting that reminds you that the ability to work is a gift from our Heavenly Father. They can also be more complex, like the smell of your baby when you first held her in your arms, reminding you of the miracle of being able to create life. It could be the aftershave your dad was wearing the day he came home after losing his job. Did he call your family in for family prayer and asked that the Lord watch over and bless you? The sense of smell is imprinted in our memory, for good and for bad. Take a moment and consider the smells that are in your memory. Can you think of any scents that help you listen to the Spirit?


  1. My mother's vegatable soup was a comfort food for me. She hated to cook, but when we were sick, she'd fix homemade veggie soup (otherwise it was canned) and bring it to us on a tray with crackers and tea (pre Mormon days). It always says to me you're loved which is something the Holy Ghost reminds me of. What a wonderful post Stacy. Loved it. Now I need to go find some veggie soup, ha.

  2. Welcome to the blogging group, Stacy. I enjoyed your insights!

  3. I was looking for a thought to take to my presidency meeting...and here it is! Thanks, Stacy. Wonderful thoughts and insights! Hmmm...I think I'm going to expand on the idea for an FHE lesson.

    Welcome to the blogging group.

  4. I had never thought of using smell in that way before. Very intriguing. Now I'll be casting back for memories that apply, for sure.

  5. Great blog, Stacy. I believe I have detected the sweet smell of success in a fascinating class about writing.

  6. I love it! Why didn't you do the enrichment lesson? You're amazing! Since that night I too have thought a lot about feeling the spirit through scent. Great blog!

  7. Awesome point. I don't often include smells and need to. My favorite is the musty smell of the classroom closed all summer opened in the fall. It was always a time of hope for me.

  8. As stated before, that is a great essay. I too never thought of using scents for spiritual memories. I do know I am blessed with an extra keen sense of smell, I will do my best to understand this and bring to light a new appreciation of scents! thanks!

  9. Great insight into the whole smell/memory connection. I would have never made the connection of bleach to the temple, but I'm sure your article will come to mind now next time I go.


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