“Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.” Psalm 103.1
As part of my training to become a Lay Reader I did a 2-month placement at a different church last autumn. The idea is that you choose a church that is very different to your home church, so I went to St Michael’s and All Angels in Barnes. My first Sunday was the feast of Michaelmas where the story of the Archangel Michael was told (read Revelation 12:7-12 if you want to know more!) and because their church is named after the angels it was a big celebration. We were given a Michaelmas daisy (a flower also known as an Aster) buttonhole to wear and as the service began there was a procession led by someone swinging incense, then people carrying candles, someone carrying a cross, the choir in their robes singing a hymn of praise, and then 3 members of clergy wearing fabulous shiny red robes. This certainly wasn’t like HTR! They walked to the front where there was an altar with 10 candles that were so tall I would have needed a ladder to light them, and even more candles in red lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
It was a feast for the senses: the sight of candles and robes; the smell of incense; the sound of the choir singing and the words of the sermon retelling the story of St Michael; and then later the touch of the cushion as I knelt to say prayers, and the taste of the wafer at Holy Communion. All of this made me realise how God wants us to know Him with our full being, our full body, all of our senses.
The sense that surprised me most was smell. Smell is very powerful in triggering memories. The smell of mulled wine and winter spices can suddenly transport us back to past Christmases, or the smell of the sea to old family holidays. As I came towards the end of my placement I was sitting at home and suddenly caught the smell of incense on my hair. It triggered all these memories from the previous two months of worshipping God. That smell had become associated with God, like smelling the perfume of a loved relative. In that moment I knew that God was with me. He was with me as I worshipped Him in the church, and would be with me every moment outside the church too.
I wonder if there are any of your senses that you don’t often use to worship God? Have you tried praying holding a cross or kneeling? A couple of weeks ago at HTR we prayed holding our hands out towards our children, young people and Sunday group leaders as we prayed a prayer of blessing over them, which was a very moving moment in the service. It doesn’t need to be ‘religious’, like the sights and smells of candles and incense. Have you tried worshipping through the lovely smell of coffee?! Coffee is a smell I have come to associate with God too, through the plentiful supply at HTR (it will be back soon once the covid cases ease!). I think God can even be found in the delicious taste of chocolate! How wonderful that we can connect with God through all of our senses, particularly when some of us might have experienced covid dulling some of our senses through brain fog or losing taste/smell. God has made sure we can connect with Him no matter what is going on with our minds or bodies.
Louise McFerran 17/01/2022
Photo: St Michael’s and All Angels, Barnes.