"But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ's triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God..."
2 Corinthians 2:14-15a
The wind is blowing fiercely tonight, another evening of sundowners on the central coast of California. I can hear the hollow notes of our bamboo wind chimes as I sit here listening to a wonderful discussion at Krista Tippett's "On Being" - an interview with Rabbi Avivah Zornberg on the story of the exodus.
And as I raise my hands near my face, I can still smell the perfumed oil from this afternoon's solitary experience. Slowly, slowly I am moving out of my former office at church. Books have been sorted and most of them are now sitting on the bookshelves in our office hallway, available for anyone to use for research, study, devotional reading.
Now I'm digging into the contents of my cupboards and the collections in my files. Slower, less dramatic work....and somehow more deeply personal and often, surprisingly moving.
I find old notes of encouragement, reminders of where we've been as a community and where I've been in the midst of that community.
I find the detritus of life in an office - paper clips, hole punchers, yards and yards of scotch tape.
I find pieces of myself, pieces even of God, it seems. Small things that remind me that God has been powerfully at work in the midst of the messiness and dailyness of church life.
I find old sermons, some of which almost stun me with the deepness of their dive beneath, around and within the text.
Did I write these?
My fingers did the typing but sometimes, every once in a while - I can sniff the sweet fragrance of a miracle as I read through these old words.
Every sermon I've ever struggled to write has been bathed in prayer, offered to the winds of the Spirit and then released, often in exhaustion, to the act of speaking.
But every once in a while, there is something unique and remarkable that happens. Times when the Holy Spirit moves in and around the work I've done and pulls it together in a way that seems to have very little to do with me.
Those are the times when the sermon feels as though it writes itself. And I thank God for those times and for this written record of them. They'll be with me until my kids toss them after I'm gone.
I also find folders that are easy to let go, giving me a sense of lightness as they hit the recycle bin. Most of these are filled with scribbled notes from meetings of one kind or another - council meetings, staff meetings, conference meetings, committee meetings. There are so many meetings in the life of a pastor! I save a few, again to remind me where I've been - but most of them bounce into the bin with an almost joyful hop.
Somewhere in the middle of the day, I stumble across a small vial of scented oil, the kind I use to anoint the sick, to comfort the distressed, to pray with and for dear friends as they ask God for discernment.
"The Spirit of our Triune God is nearer to you than this oil is to your skin," I say as I make the sign of the cross on their foreheads or their hands. "Lean into God's presence and be blessed, be healed, be refreshed."
The scent of the oil continues to rise all around me the rest of the afternoon, bringing sweet, pungent reminders of God's gracious call to me to do this work. How grateful I am to have been in this place! How powerfully I have seen God do the work of redemption and transformation in and through these dear people, in and through me.
I began this part of my journey more than halfway through my life, entering seminary at 44, beginning this job at 52, retiring this year at 66. It's been amazing - tough, exhausting, frustrating, even mind-bogglingly boring at times. But only at times.
Most of the time it's been sweet. And I have inhaled the fragrance of that sweetness, the strong, sure scent of Jesus himself, as we have worked together to be the church in this place. This is a perfume that saves and changes lives, a sweetness that wafts its way into the deepest corners of pain and struggle, of fear and loneliness. It brings with it hope and life and love. It fills me with joy and gratitude to dab a little on my wrists and elbows and tap it into the small crevasses behind my ears.
"Oh!" I find myself praying, "May others catch just a whiff of Jesus when I'm nearby!"