For the Fragrance Lover

Do you have a smell memory? You know, one of those olfactory experiences that instantly transports you to another time and place? The first time it happened to me I was surprised by how powerful the sensation is. It was the smell of a gluey mixture used for paper mâché that sent me into memory replay of a kindergarten class activity.

Sarah Dowdey writes, “The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment.”

Recently, I had another smell memory. While Jon and I stood in the Valley of Elah in Israel, I smelled the familiar sweet scent of St. John’s tropical landscape. Jon and I were standing over a plant in the dried up bed of a stream, and he smelled it too.


Understand, when we smell “St. John,” we are transported to the place that delights us beyond compare. Since our honeymoon in the Caribbean, we have managed four stays on St. John. The small gem in the U.S. Virgin Islands is our version of paradise, and we always dream of future returns.

The Valley of Elah delivered another smell, one that offends. I remarked to Pastor Caleb that something must be buried near the site where we gathered, because I could smell death. A fitting oder for the location considering this was the exact spot where young David took down Goliath, the Philistine giant.


A couple more mentions on my sensory tour through Israel: I found it interesting that my choice spot for reflection in the Garden of Gethsemane was alongside a beautiful hedge of Rosemary. Coincidence? I think not.

Jesus prayed in anguish here. Soon he was to pay the price of humanity’s sin and suffer at the hands of the Romans. On the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion, the women who prepared to tend to his buried body brought with them to the tomb a large amount of Rosemary along with other spices.


But the women failed to encounter a body. Instead, two angels appeared to them and announced that the living is not to be found among the dead. “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:6)

This brings me to the next scent- the sweet smell of florals in that very garden where Jesus’ tomb remains vacant to this day. I’m not sure what is growing in the picture below, but I did stop to smell a Plumeria tree while walking through the site. And all this smelling carried me home with a desire to dig into Scripture and discover what God is speaking to me.


I studied both Old and New Testament scripture references to fragrance and found one common denominator: sacrifice. Sacrifice is to God a “pleasing aroma.” And as we live surrendered to the call to be living testimonies of Jesus Christ, we allow God through us to spread everywhere “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

I’m not going to pretend to understand how scent impacts the Father in heaven, but obviously it is of importance to him. And not that he needs reminding, but I wonder in what way, if any, does a smell memory affect him? When we follow through in obedience with sacrificial acts of love, is he instantly transported to the ultimate sacrifice of his Son, the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundations of the world?

Of this we can be sure: God considers our sacrifice to be a pleasing aroma. Such a description helps me today as I evaluate the use of time, talents and treasures. Knowing it’s more than an act the Father has seen – it’s an olfactory delight to him each time I lay my life down and take up the cross- that does something to me.

What about you? What thoughts do you have about the call to be a living sacrifice and the aroma benefiting God through it?


Dowdey, Sarah. “How Smell Works.” Accessed 27 of June, 2018.

“Pleasing aroma” references- Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 3:16



  1. Laura Spiers says:

    I love you Renee. What a beautiful post!! I have heard that smell is the sense most easily linked to memory, and have seen that in action, or should I say smelled that in action haha. I love smell memories!!! Thanks for sharing yours!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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