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What Religion Smells Like


Early on a cold Sunday morning in the first quarter of the year

I will turn left and walk up the road to the church

Then left again through the gates into the garden

I will pace ten grey slabs of the path

And enter by a narrow opening,

One great oak door heaved back from another

Leaving the morning light behind

I will pass through a dimly lit lobby

And enter into a new light

The sense of sight now overwhelmed

By sense of  smell

Bacon, eggs, eau de cologne

The common tang of one holy faith

Incarnate in toast and ketchup

Plates wiped clean

Of yolk

And baked beans.

Inhaling the incense of this fine faith

I will turn left to walk down the nave

At the chancel I will find a seat

Between someone with a home

And someone without

She who minutes ago left the soft bosom of family

And he who slept on this hard floor all night

I will smell tired clothes on tired lives

Aftershave fragrant with fry-up

The scent of a long day dawning

Sitting, standing,

Walking, waiting

Another night, another shelter, another floor

I will breathe in the resignation and the fear

Maybe the hope (maybe not)

I will not smell the gifts of bread and wine

When they arrive

But we will know them in another sense

As we know the sacred scent in all good gifts

This smell of breakfast in a church

The pungent holy ghost of a winter night shelter

The fleeting aroma of another kind of world

The smell of true religion.


From How To Lose Your Life, a small book of words and pictures made with Rob Pepper.

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