On Sensual Spirituality

My wife often asks interesting questions. Lately, she has been asking people “What is a smell you associate with your childhood?” I knew my own answer right away. Whenever I smell cigar smoke, I immediately see my Uncle Gaddy, a rough Irish fireman whom I loved a great deal. It’s a comforting smell.

Sadly, the Catholicism of my youth gave bodies and senses a bad reputation, primarily because sensuality was equated with sexuality. I’ve come to see, though, that not only are our senses a gift but that sensual experience can be significantly spiritual.

Take smell, for instance. I often burn frankincense in my office. It’s a sacred smell for me, evoking memories of midnight Easter Mass. I have no doubt but that some music is of God. Some might even say that music is the Voice of God. I hear that voice not only when Pavarotti intones Ave Maria but when a bagpipe transports me with Amazing Grace. Touch, too, can be spiritual not only through the ecstasy of sexual touch but through the comfort of a grandchild’s hug. Both touches can give us a glimpse of a loving God. What of taste? Can that be sacred? Can’t the taste of fresh spring water be spiritually uplifting? Finally, I believe I have had glimpses of God through such visual experiences as an unexpected herd of deer or seeing Dali’s Last Supper.

El Gallo in the musical The Fantastiks issues an invitation, “Celebrate sensation!” he says. So it should be with our senses. They should not be viewed as an impediment to reaching the Divine but rather a doorway. Indeed, celebrate sensation!

Reflection: Can you identify any impactful spiritual experiences tied to your senses?