This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications and is included here with their permission.
Week One – Our God-given senses
The writer of Psalm 115 talks about idols of silver and gold “the work of human hands” (v4b). He says they have eyes but can’t see; ears but can’t hear; noses but can’t smell; hands but can’t touch or feel. He says that everyone who makes such idols or trusts in them will become like them: unfeeling and less than human.
We are made in the image of the Living God. We relate to and communicate with the world and the people around us through our God-given senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
Maybe this Lent we could choose to become more aware of the things we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. By doing so we can perhaps learn more about God, who became fully human in Jesus, and our relationship with him so that we too become fully human and live life in all its fullness.
Week Two – Developing awareness
It is through our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch that we receive information about the world around us. Our brain processes that information and enables us to act accordingly. We see a steep flight of steps and our brain sends signals to our legs about how they need to work to get to the top.
At a different level, though, seeing those steps might, for example, trigger feelings of excitement if they lead to a place where we meet people we love.
This Lent we could seek a deeper awareness of what our senses are telling us or suggesting to us. We might spend a little time each day focussing on the sights, sounds and smells of the present moment, identifying them and exploring what they can teach us about the God in whose image we are made and who wants us to experience life to the full.
Week Three – The instinct to share
We see a beautiful painting or hear a moving piece of music and often we want to share this experience. “Look at this”, “listen to this” we say to a friend. Sometimes we can feel frustrated when our words can’t convey the intense pleasure of whatever it is we’re trying to describe.
As we are made in the image of God surely God too has this longing to share his creation with us.
Think about a flowering cherry tree. Every spring the blossom bursts from the buds in a glorious blaze of bright pink. The beauty is extravagant and we look at it in wonder and delight. Perhaps we have a sense of God looking at it with us and saying “Isn’t it beautiful? I’m happy that you enjoy it too.”
It’s a humbling thought that God needs us to share in his enjoyment of all that he has made and given us.
Week 4 – Responding to our experience
We may have an awareness of God sharing our experiences with us when we see or hear something beautiful or enjoy any part of his creation through our senses.
Our pleasure, excitement or wonder might prompt us to say “thank you” to God and to tell him how much we are enjoying his gifts. We offer thanks and praise in our worship but this Lent we might also make more time for our own personal thanks and praise: for our home, our friends and for the everyday things that we sometimes don’t notice because they’re so familiar.
When we read, see or hear news of suffering, pain and injustice we can know that God shares those experiences too and we can respond with prayers of longing and maybe anger but also with trust and in faith that God hears those prayers and works with them to bring in his kingdom.
Week 5 – Choosing life
There are times when we are happy to share with God what we experience through our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. We share experiences that bring sorrow or anger as well as the ones that bring joy and peace. But what about the things that bring shame, guilt or the feeling that we have somehow spent time and energy on something that has not been life-giving?
Perhaps we have listened to rumour and gossip; we may have seen events unfolding and jumped to conclusions without checking reality; we may not have listened to ourselves and heard what lies behind the things we say.
Without becoming too self-conscious and anxious we might learn more about our relationship with God if we consider whether or not we want to invite him in to share our experiences of the moment, remembering though that in Jesus he understands and has compassion on us.
Week Six – Senses in Holy Week
God, in Jesus, understands what we experience through our senses and the effect those experiences. In Holy Week we can share in the experiences of Jesus and reflect on how we relate to them.
Jesus sees people in pain and responds with his healing touch.
He touches the untouchable and makes them clean.
He hears shouts of “Hosanna” as he enters Jerusalem but “Crucify” as he faces Pilate.
He tastes bread and wine both literally and symbolically. How do they taste to Peter, James and John and to Judas – and to us?
Jesus smells blood, sweat and human waste. The smells are of humiliation and cruelty.
It takes courage to enter into the experiences of Jesus during this week but we can do so in the hope of the new resurrection life which redeems our senses and through them brings us the joy of life in all its abundance.