Smelling the Spirit

13 June 2016

My sense of smell has never been that great but this morning when I was standing in the cue to get on my morning bus I was aware someone has used one of those strong soaps, a clean smell. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but it did make me aware of that way we smell when we first emerge from the shower, all fresh and ready for a new day. That experience prompted me to sit next to the window and look out at the mist, the green trees that dotted the highway landscape, the dew on the ground, the way the earth typically comes alive each new day.

In 2006 I returned to Halifax after a four year sabbatical in Ontario. It was lovely to reconnect with familiar faces and stories but there was also a sense of “going back” for me, a fear I might slip into an easy pattern, that I might miss out on something new and challenging. Halifax is not only the place of my birth, my education, most of my work life and where most of my friends live it is also where my parents, their parents and their parents were born and lived their entire life. That makes for deep roots and familiarity but it can also lead to an ease of assumptions, thinking you already know a place more than you do.

My decision in 2013 to serve churches in the city core was surprising to many, especially considering that my wife and daughter and I decided to remain in the suburbs. But what people failed to understand was how stressful I find driving and how much I needed to stimulate myself in a setting that could easily become routine. Taking the bus, first a shuttle from suburbs to city and then around the city, moved me not only in a physical way, it also shifted the ground under my feet spiritually.

In a recent analysis of American culture the book The Big Sort chronicles the irony of our current lifestyles, we have access to a global culture at our fingertips but our instinct has been to associate ourselves exclusively with like-minded people. Rather than the internet connecting us to new and different people and thought it has given us the pleasure of finding people and opinions that just reinforce our own Point of View.

So in the midst of returning to a place and people where I could easily imagine the next 40 years of my life I opted to use a mode of transportation that would propel me into conversations with suburbanite commuters (North Face jackets and laptop bags) early in the morning and seniors and students (knapsacks and ball caps) moving around the peninsula, and be open to wherever these conversations might take me.

So this morning the extrovert that I am was ready for those conversations but none came, the commuters all had their headphones on and the seniors and students were all looking quite sleepy, and I did not want to intrude. But here is where stretching into a more introvert-mode was so enlightening. The surroundings, the trees, the grass, the ditch flowers, they all spoke to me of a new day, of something unexpected and worth paying attention to. And so I listened…