My photography class, a few semesters ago, was on the far side of the college campus, a quieter spot with trees scattered nearby and outside benches. I rarely had time to sit down outside though, because I was often running late from the previous class. I always sat in the back of the classroom, on the right side. It was a normal classroom, with normal sights and smells, but in every class, I caught a whiff of pine. Not a single pine, but like a pine forest. A single pine tree doesn’t have that rich smell.
It wasn’t a pine-tree scented car decoration. Those don’t have a natural smell. This was the real thing, an aroma of pine. Because pine forests are one of my favorite scents, I wanted to search out that smell, find out where it was coming from. A window letting in air from the roof where a carpet of pine needles had fallen? Why would such a pungent, lovely aroma be in the middle of an every classroom?
Frederick Buechner said we are like that … or should be. An unexpected whiff of a pine forest in the middle of a city. Or as he put it, “…the fragrance of a rose on the other side of the street with all the world in between.” But still, it is a scent of the real thing. Not a sample. Not a man-made concoction that smells somewhat like it, but the real thing. That makes someone sit up and say, “Hey, I know that smell. I know that fragrance. I need to find it.”
All of us know that fragrance deep inside even if we have never seen it before, never heard it, barely felt it. Still, deep inside, we desire the real thing that only one thing can fill. Just like we catch glimpses of that great and overarching Story in the myriad of stories we see lived around us. Stories that we ourselves live or try to live as best we can.
And maybe even the greatest story we write will only serve as a parody … just as the greatest words we speak or greatest life we live is still only nothing more than a moment’s glance, a fleeting touch, an aroma in the air one second and gone the next. Yet still, those who sense that transitory essence will seek, by God’s grace. They will catch that scent of wonder and search for the real thing.
And they will find it. They will find Him. He will be waiting with arms wide open.
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-17).