Lenten Devotion: Listen by Smelling
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Listen by Smelling
I just came back from a trip to the Philippines. This was, in many ways, a trip that I undertook because I listened to the smells that I sniffed in my residence.
In late October, I detected the faint smell of burning candles – but there were none in my residence and the stove was off. A few days later, I had a quick sniff of perfume – my mother’s perfume. My mother passed away 20 years ago, and her birthday was on November 6.
This was more than just coincidence. It was clear that I was being reminded that five years have passed since I went home to pay my respects to my parents and ancestors in their graves in the Philippines.
This may sound crazy to Westerners, but to Filipinos, listening by smelling makes sense culturally. The smells were signs that were not to be ignored. And so, I travelled for nearly 30 hours each way – because I listened by smelling.
From the airport in Dumaguete, I bought flowers and candles and visited my parents’ graves. The following day, my brother and I drove more than three hours to my grandparents’ hometown, Guihulngan. There, we lit candles for all the tombs in the family’s cemetery plot, overlooking the sea.
For good measure, I offered a mass for them – and all friends and relatives who have passed on – at the Philippine Independent Church (part of the Anglican communion).
After performing these obligations, I felt as if a heavy burden was lifted from me. In a way, I had been like Jesus, wandering for forty days and forty nights, in a spiritual wilderness. There have been no smells since I returned to the U.S. I am now free, thanks be to the God who is always there for you and me.