(The First in a Series)
In a child’s book of riddles, I once saw the question, “How do you keep fish from smelling?” The Answer: “Cut off their noses!”
I‘ll admit it. I don’t smell good well. My nose might as well be cut off. If I take a deep sniff, I can detect some mustiness in my office. There’s also a faint odor of coffee drifting in from the work room. But I don’t spend much time sniffing. I am much more attuned to sights and sounds and words than smells. The odors in the room are just not that interesting.
My dog, however, would disagree. Dogs smell two to three hundred times better than we do. Beagles and bassets and blood hounds can smell a milliontimes better. Just imagine what comes to their senses! Through smells, dogs can tell how young or old plants are, what ingredients comprise a solid substance, how sick or healthy an animal is, what mood another animal is in, and who we’ve been with today.
We can’t do that. But just because we can’t smell the things a dog can, it doesn’t mean the scents aren’t there. We can’t see microbes with the naked eye, either; but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, right? Remember the first time you looked through a microscope?
To our pets, the very air we breathe is rich with our signature odor, our sweat. In fact, according to the animal behaviorist Alexandra Horowitz, to a dog we are first of all our scent. That’s how they actually “see” us.
In the same way that we cannot smell what a dog smells, or see what a microbiologist sees with her microscope, neither can most people sense spiritual things. Spiritual creatures such as angels are not within our ability to see, unless, of course, they want to be seen. But their invisibility does not necessarily mean that they are not real.
The Creed reminds us that our five senses of touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight only detect a part of God’s creation. What seems real to us is tiny compared to what is real to God. Reality is larger than we can imagine, and more multi-faceted than we experience.
So the next time you have a moment to relax outdoors with a dog, take a moment to appreciate how differently each of you experiences creation. Watch him put his nose to the breeze and imagine what he’s picking up. Then look around and notice all the things you can see – and just imagine for a moment what you can’t, and marvel at God’s creation.
Fr. John Hardie
St. Mark’s Church, Corpus Christi