“Hurry, come here!”
Taylor rushes toward me.
“Do you smell it?”
We lift our nostrils; our chests balloon with breath.
It has become our morning ritual to step outside under the oak tree right as the sun rises. We inhale glory. Sometimes the smell is crisp and fragrant like the leaves of my afternoon tea, other times the smell is deep and succulent like fresh pepper straight from the grinder. But always it smells the way of earth, the way of life abundant.
I learned recently that in the modern world humans have begun to use our senses less and less as we’ve become more confined to the visual and the auditory—our days mostly restricted to laptops and earbuds. It’s also true that we’re intentionally blocking out the senses that are distasteful to us because of how many we encounter in our midst: the sound of honking horns, the sight of construction equipment, the smell of truck exhaust and factory fumes.
In more ways than one, we are disconnected from the practices of our ancestors. In the past, people needed all their senses for survival, extending them as far out into their environment as they could to find both resources and protection from predators and other threats. Our needs are different today, as we experience much of the world digitally. While technology is helpful for us in many ways, it also means that we are constantly bombarded with unnatural stimuli faster than we can process them. As a preservation mechanism, we learn to shut down.
While we’ve been taught there are five primary senses, neuroscientists assert that there are upwards of thirty others—some even say there are as many as fifty-three. For example, we sense gravity, the passage of time, our balance, the temperature, and hunger. Like sharks or bats, some humans have even claimed to sense electrical or magnetic fields. Deeper than that, though, we can feel a sense of vulnerability, trust, belonging or the lack thereof. An extension of these that most humans can feel intuitively but cannot explain is a sense of the spiritual or the divine.
In one of Mary Oliver’s most famous poems, “The Summer Day,” she writes, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention,” as she sits on the grass watching a grasshopper eat sugar from her hand. Perhaps paying attention is a form of prayer—the way to a deeper spirituality where, curious, we seek to sense God with our whole being. “Come and see what God has done,” the psalmist once said (Ps. 66:5 NIV). This requires a curiosity that invites us to engage all our senses and to observe ourselves and everything around us.
- What do you smell, taste, hear, feel, and see on a daily basis that reminds you of the divine?
- What new discoveries has your curiosity led you to?
Excerpted from Sacred Belonging by Kat Armas, from Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2023. Used with permission. For more information about Brazos Press click here.