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40 days of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the sacred – a sensory approach to Lent

February 17, 2010

I am an overthinker. I place a lot of value (often too much) in meaning and logic and reason. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, at least not if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time. I overthink things ALL the time. Just ask my kids or my husband – they’ll tell you how it often drives them crazy when, for example, I complain that I “just don’t get what Lady Gaga is singing about – those lines don’t make ANY SENSE!”

While I was preparing to introduce the Lord’s Supper last week, I did what I always do – I looked for the meaning behind Jesus’ simple act of sharing the bread and wine. I wanted it to make sense so that I could better explain it to those who would receive it.

Somewhere in the middle of all that contemplation, I started reading “Beauty”, by John O’Donohue. Flipping through it, my eye landed on a simple phrase… “the sensuous is sacred”.  In other words, my senses connect me to God.

He wasn’t talking specifically about the Lord’s Supper, but suddenly I had an “a-ha” moment. A picture flashed into my mind of Jesus sitting in that room, looking out over his friends and followers while they shared a hearty meal. Something somebody said (Thomas, perhaps?) made him pause and realize that if he was going to get through to the overthinkers in the room, he needed to do something different – something a little shocking.

“Okay,” he said. “… time to stop thinking so hard. Time to stop trying to figure it all out and just let your senses connect you to the sacred.” And then he broke the bread in his hand. “Taste this bread. Feel the texture of it on your tongue. Smell this wine. Let it flow over your taste buds. It is from the earth and the earth is my body… it is GOOD! It is sensuous, nourishing and so very tasty and beautiful! Savour it with me. Don’t waste it, don’t squander it, but enjoy the way your senses respond to it and the way it feeds you.”

That changed the Lord’s Supper for me. I didn’t have to “get it”. I didn’t even have to make sense of the whole Easter story – the death, resurrection, and assumption. I just had to pause for a moment, taste, smell, touch – and let my senses guide me to God.

This year, my Lenten practice will be just that – letting my senses guide me to God. For 40 days, I will be mindful of how my senses interact with the world and how that is sacred and spiritual. I will taste the wine that is currently on the bedside table beside me, I will smell the freshly baked bread when I walk past the bakery in the morning, I will feel the smoothness and moisture of the lotion as it soaks into my dry skin, I will look more deeply into the rich colours of the sunset, and I will listen to the subtle sounds of music as it moves my soul. I will try to do all these things more mindfully and I will savour them because of the way they connect me with my Creator and all that (s)he has created. (Together with Christine, I will approach it more as 40 days of delight, rather than 40 days of sacrifice.)

As I do so, I will keep John O’Donohue’s Blessing for the Senses close by to guide and inspire me…

For the Senses

May the touch of your skin
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you

May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home.

May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth.

And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth.

May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you

May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2010 9:32 pm

    Heather, I was just contemplating if I would give something up for Lent. I am not a Christian but love the idea of Lent as a way to reframe some aspect of life, through a sort of retreat in the world. Then I saw your blog on Twitter and clicked through… thank you for the wonder. Your take on the Last Supper is so mind opening. I just read Karen Armstrong’s The Case of God and your post and her book agree. Thank you!

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 18, 2010 7:52 am

      Thanks Jennifer – I like your suggestion of a “sort of retreat in the world”. I may have to use that.:-)

  2. February 17, 2010 9:50 pm

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love the idea. I haven’t celebrated Lent before, but I think this is a practice that I would like to integrate into my life in general. The sacred in the simple. So appropriate.

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 18, 2010 7:53 am

      Thanks Elizabeth! The “sacred in the simple” sounds right on. Welcome! 🙂

  3. February 17, 2010 10:13 pm

    Elizabeth sent me to this blog entry. I love this so much. I’m praying on your idea, and hope to implement it myself. In fact, I’m thinking each day, I’ll blog about something that day that touched my senses. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 18, 2010 7:54 am

      Welcome Leanne – I hope you join me! I’d love to read about your personal approach to it!

  4. February 18, 2010 7:25 am

    Heather, your post brought tears to my eyes – not even sure WHY, but I’ll be reflecting on it. I LOVE the idea here — and your take on the bread and wine thing.

    Sounds True recordings has John O’Donohue’s Beauty on CD’s – I love, love, love it – hearing him SAY (in his beautiful accent) things about Beauty — ahhhhhhhhh! Lovely. If you have a chance to listen, I bet it’d amp your enjoyment of his work even more!

    Thanks for this post, I’m going away thinking!!

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 18, 2010 7:55 am

      Karen – oooo… thank you for the recommendation! I think hearing Beauty on cd would be even better than reading it! I’ve heard him do some interviews in the past (just before he died), so I know I would enjoy it.

  5. February 18, 2010 11:31 am

    Perfect.

    Time to honor our precious, wise hearts and our vulnerable, beautiful, ephemeral bodies.

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 19, 2010 12:47 pm

      Thanks Christine, for being an inspiration!

  6. February 18, 2010 1:14 pm

    wow. i am glad i popped by to read this. i see lent differently now!
    thanks!

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 19, 2010 12:47 pm

      Thanks for the comment Leel! One of the things I love about the Bible is that you can read it differently every time you open it up. 🙂

  7. Lindaa permalink
    February 18, 2010 1:20 pm

    It is so great to see how John’s work continues to weave “words of love . . . an invisible cloak, to mind your life.” I want to support you in sharing that inspiration and love; and I am also responsible for minding the technicalities connected with the preservation of John’s estate and literary legacy.

    John’s family would be very grateful if you would add to your quote a note that gives the title of the book from which the poem is quoted, as well as the copyright attribution ( © John O’Donohue. All rights reserved). It would also be great if you could provide a link to the web site: http://www.johnodonohue.com — so that those who want to know more about John can come to us?

    warmly and with gratitude,
    Lindaa

  8. February 18, 2010 5:57 pm

    Isn’t sacrifice pretty much the entire point of Lent?

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 19, 2010 12:48 pm

      Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean I can’t spend 40 days connecting with God in a way that works for me, since I’m not much of a “rule follower”. 🙂

      • February 19, 2010 1:51 pm

        Right but then why call it Lent? Why associate it with a period specifically designed to coincide with Jesus’ 40 days in the desert? It’s like saying “I choose to remember the death of John the Baptist this Christmas season.” As I understand it, (and admittedly, I have a rudimentary understanding of Lent at best) the entire concept behind it is to take the chance to enter deeper into an understanding of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice, the better to enhance the spirit of celebration on Easter Sunday.

      • February 19, 2010 5:50 pm

        so I asked Amy for her take on Lent, because her youth group has been encouraged to do something for Lent in the past, and she said that her understanding of it was to set aside 40 days to do something that brought you into a deeper relationship with God – giving something up, or making a concentrated effort to go deeper – I thought I would add that to the discussion, because it certainly clarifies your perspective for me.
        It’s important to me, too, that you know I’m not criticizing – as you know, Lent is not historically a part of evangelical tradition, and I’m trying to work out my own approach to it.

        love you

        S

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 19, 2010 7:52 pm

      So far, in the 10 or so years I’ve been doing it, I’ve mostly given something up – sugar, meat, whatever. I don’t think it really matters what you choose to – the point is that you do something that causes you to pause and reflect on what the coming of Easter means in your relationship with God.

  9. February 18, 2010 6:48 pm

    Cuppa was quite taken with John O’Donohue when she read him. I had to take a pass.

    • heatherplett permalink*
      February 19, 2010 12:49 pm

      Different strokes for different folks, eh AC? 🙂

  10. March 15, 2010 9:37 pm

    Cannot believe I just now found this post and your intention for Lent…particularly given that we’re both marking the Season – in our own ways. Beautiful, Heather.

    Your focus on the senses reminds me of a provocative, lovely book by Debbie Blue called “Sensual Orthodoxy.” She says this in her Preface:

    “Though religion surprisingly often has an anti-sensual, abstracting sort of tendency, the story of Christ goes in the opposite direction. God is made truly human in the womb of Mary and is born into the world through the birth canal. Jesus Christ walks around and eats and doesn’t always wash his hands. God reveals godself as a human with skin and teeth and a tongue, sensing, moving, living, suffering, dying. This is the central story of Christianity…”

    May you know, explore, and invite us to more and more of the same!

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