Faith, Jesus

God in the Smell of Frying Onion


“We get so caught up in the emotional,” she said with her hand splayed across her chest, “and the intellectual,” moving her hand to her right temple.
“But God is in the sensory too.”

We’d been discussing a soul-weary friend who’d found healing and restoration through cooking. The grip of hand on wooden spoon. The rhythmic flex of muscles as she mixes, mixes. The smells of cocoa, butter, sugar. The cloud of flour. The finger scraped around the bowl’s lip to taste the batter. The warmth of the oven. The satisfaction as she slides the tray into the heat, sets the timer.

I know you know what I mean. It’s when those of us with mentally and emotionally demanding jobs (motherhood included) look admiringly at the woman serving our coffee. Oh, for a job that’s only demand is physical – the dash from table to table, the balance of cups and saucers, the binning of coffee grinds – all while the exercise, the aroma, the chatter feeds a strange yearning for tactile stimulation.

I was a waitress once. I worked at a shoe shop. I worked as an admin assistant. And I’m only now appreciating the task-oriented joy of those jobs. The focus on doing rather than mentally extrapolating thought bubbles or teasing out feelings.

God is a full being, whole person – so it makes sense that we can relate with him on varied levels of existence. Christian faith is Word become flesh – Jesus connected with us in a sensory way, and continues to do so. Think of the chats with close friends, how they ramble from topic to topic, from how the government wants to lower the age of children beginning school, how you’re coping with the death of your grandma to the best ever recipe for chocolate brownie. All this while chowing down on a stellar nori roll or walking a favourite track together. The doing part is important too, the sensory interaction.

I know this is why I have so enjoyed getting my watercolour paints out and playing. I’m very much a beginner, so I’ve focused on fruit; their basic shapes and textures. When I’m pulling paint across the paper, feeling the textured card beneath my fingers, watching the colours merge and settle, noticing the speckles or sheen on the skin of an apple – what a happy place that is. Satisfying, nourishing, re-fuelling.

Strangely, there are times when I feel the same plunging my hands into dish water and washing plate after fork after bowl, or pegging my family’s undies and socks on the line. The first chilly night when the flannelette sheets are brought out from the linen cupboard and I slip between the covers, bare feet on soft loveliness. The smell of my children’s hair after a bath, of onion frying, of an orange just sliced and of new leather shoes.

The combination of noticing the small things and stilling the mind and emotions draws me to Him. After all, I am not only mind and heart – but ears and eyes and nose and mouth and hands. Acknowledging the sensations and experiences of these is an act of praise that can carry through every moment of a day. I desire that so badly – to know God’s presence in every single breath.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
Psalm 34:8.