How can we use our five senses?
How do you feel when you are talking to someone and you can tell that they are not paying attention? Perhaps they are glued to their phone; perhaps they have that far away look in their eye that indicates that they are thinking about something else; perhaps they change the subject to something completely different; or perhaps they even yawn?
In the book of James in the Bible the writer says, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” In our materialistic culture where we are encouraged to give bigger and better and more expensive gifts, one of the greatest gifts we can give to another human being is to listen to them.
Counsellors are trained in what is called ‘active listening’ but active listening is something all of us can do. It means giving our full attention to the person doing the talking. It means not turning the conversation around to ourselves. It means not giving advice or telling the other person what we think. It means repeating back to the person what they are telling you to assure them that you heard correctly. It means asking questions. It means making that person feel that at this moment in time, in this conversation, they are the most important person in your world.
A Christian friend of mine told me that the thing she most wanted out of her relationship with God was to see the world with God’s eyes. This is a brave prayer and it made me wonder, how does God see the world? If the Bible is anything to go by, God sees our human suffering, poverty, and depravity. Would we really want to see that? And is it enough to simply see the world as God sees it? Surely, if we could see the world as God sees it we would have to do something, to act, and to get involved?
People say, ‘seeing is believing’, however seeing is not the same thing as believing. Seeing how things are is good, but believing is about: seeing how things are, imagining how things could be, and then doing something about it. In the Bible, Paul says that believing is about having faith, hope, and love: faith in the promises of God, hope for a better future, and love in the present.
When my Christian friend said she wanted to see the world with God’s eyes she meant that she wanted more than simply to see the world as God sees it. She meant that she also wants to be part of the solution to the pain, injustice, and suffering in the world.
Smell is important. Typically it tells us if something is good or bad, fresh or unfresh. We smell milk, baby bottoms, roses, and the perfume or cologne of the one we love. If we are suspicious of something we say that we ‘smell a rat’ (I presume that rats do not smell so good). We associate good smells with good things and bad smells with bad things. Estate agents tell us that if we wish to sell our home, we should make the house smell of fresh coffee and baking bread, so that prospective buyers will associate the building with good things and be more inclined to put in an offer.
There is a saying in the Bible, “May the prayers of the people be like sweet smelling incense.” Incense has often been used in spiritual prayer. There is something about connecting all of our senses as we worship. Traditionally, incense is also a physical metaphor for our prayers that rise up to God. The good smell of incense is a prayer in itself, asking God to think of our petitions as good and not bad.
According to a recent poll, something like 70% of people admit to praying — even if it is, “Please Lord, help me find my car keys.” Us humans do have a habit of praying when the chips are down, when we are under pressure, pain, or stress, and of course, it is important to pray, however, how about praying when we are not under duress?
One Sunday, at the church door after leading worship, I held the hands of an elderly woman and kissed her on the cheek. She held onto my hands for a long time and smiled at me, saying, “Thank you. You are the only person who touches me over the whole week.” As she continued to walk along the path my eyes welled up. Surely this was wrong? Surely this was an injustice? Was she not being denied a basic need of every human being — to be touched by another.
We Westerners are not the most tactile of people are we? We limply shake hands and give each other embarrassed hugs. We go to great lengths not to make contact with other human beings in public. We hardly make eye contact and an innocent smile can be interpreted as if we are a creep, a stalker, or a miscreant. Our culture demands that there are rules we have to follow and boundaries that we have to keep, however, in many cultures, men greet each other with a kiss and handshakes are double-handed affairs. Jesus even washed his disciples’ feet, a most distinctly ‘unBritish’ thing to do!
I am not suggesting that you go and start kissing or hugging every stranger you come across or engage in inappropriate touching, but perhaps even in our closest relationships we have relegated touch to something we only do when we feel like it.
I once, as a present from my family, went on a cookery course with a minor celebrity chef. To my surprise, the day was not about how to cook but how to taste. She said that, “anyone can follow recipes and learn techniques but most importantly a good cook needs to know how to balance flavour.” And so we learned about the taste groups: sweet, savoury, salt, bitter, heat, smoke, and umami — and how to balance them in a dish. It changed the way I cook and now the prized ingredients that make their way into my soups and main courses include such things as anchovy paste, quality sea salt, and chilli sauce.
Jesus told his listeners that they were to be like salt and that if salt lost its saltiness it was worth only to be trampled under foot. As salt increases the tastiness of food, so humans are to flavour the world, and Jesus warns us not to be bland. I suppose we can be people that add little or nothing, or we can be, as Jesus hoped, people that enhance, improve and contribute to the world around us — in our relationships and in the environment.
I pray that today, and this coming week, you will be aware of your five senses and how they can make a difference in the world. Perhaps you could try listening to someone? I mean really listening. It could be the greatest gift they receive. Perhaps wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you will see the world with God’s eyes and believe. Perhaps you could give someone a firm handshake, a re-assuring clasp of the shoulder, a hold of their hand, a warm hug, or a kiss on the forehead. It might make a world of difference to them. Perhaps you could take time out to pray. What are you thankful for? What do you need to say sorry for? And what do you see in your world and the world of others where you desire a solution or a way forward? And finally, perhaps you will positively flavour your relationships and the environment around you. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, may you know God’s blessing.