Saturday, May 01, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/1/2010)

Years ago, when attending a performance of Lalo Schifrin's Jazz Mass, I noticed that some people sat, stock still, following the music with a score in hand, others cocked their heads the better to listen, and still others, including me, bobbed and weaved to the beat.

The first group experienced an auditory event visually, the second auditorially, and the third kinesthetically, that is, through their bodies with feeling. The visual are the quickest, the kinesthetic the slowest.

In the first grade, I was put in the Opportunity Room, a room with barred windows. Considered "backward," the staff wanted to send me to an institution for retarded children. Stuttering, boredom, and introversion didn't help my cause. After a furious response from my parents, I was merely demoted to the kindergarten. Now, at 83 years of age, I'm still slow and introverted, but no longer bored or stuttered if I speak slowly.

Adept communicators use all five senses. Ernest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls described a train pulling into a station, a whistle's sound down the valley, the sight of plumes of smoke, the feel of thunder on the tracks, the smell of coal smoke, and the taste of steam. Some churches use incense to enrich worship while others are frenzied by pheromones in someone else's sweat, and the Eucharist is a matter of taste.

While we all favor one or two of our senses to process our experiences, we'd all do well to train ourselves in all of our five senses rather than preferring one or two, the better to enrich our lives. Such enrichment brings us straightaway to gardening which is best done with all five senses and is a fine training ground to develop all of our senses.

The feel of soil running through our fingers, of leaves brushing against our cheeks, and of warm, full, ripe sun-drenched tomatoes at our finger tips are kinesthetic sensations which delight our skins. Touch is the first sensation we experience, being caressed as an infant by someone who loves us.

Surely, no one can pass by a rose bed without taking pleasure in their noses, inhaling slowly, savoring the aromas' moment, relishing the joy of a nasal luxury. So, too, a basil leaf, finger-rubbed, evokes an aroma of opulence.

The resinous aromas of ponderosa pines clarifies our minds, cutting through our confusions' phlegm, releasing the mind "to see life steadily and to see it whole," to use Archbishop Ramsey's phrase. The sweet smell of soil connects us with something deeper than flex and flow, just as does the aroma of greening grass give a sense of the fresh and new.

"A small voice of stillness" is the way the biblical writer describes Elijah's encounter with the divine sounds of silence (I Kings 19:12.) Throughout gardens "still small voices" whisper -- whistling pines, rustling leaves, singing birds, scuttling and scampering creatures, and then those almost noiseless murmurs. These sounds of silence allow us moments of reprieve, or as Thoreau said, "a niversal refuge" and "an inviolable asylum." Indeed, silence feels good as well as being linked to healing.

It takes no wit to relish the tastes of a garden. A carrot freshly pulled from the soil, washed off at the faucet, sweet and snap-crisp, is a sensory treasure available only to those who garden. The complex of sweetness and acidity creeping along the sides of our mouths, touching our palates, and sweeping over our tongues are the province of those who raise tomatoes. Some say store-bought tomatoes are tasteless. No, they're dull.

And then, there are the sights of a garden, those delights of the eye. Sometimes the eye can keep wonder at a distance as though it were "over there," but other times it draws us into the mystery. A pansy or a jaunty daffodil brings a smile. Studying a bearded iris in a garden's silence, our eyes are drawn through a quietly beautiful complex of colors into those throated recesses "offering up," as Albert Camus wrote, "for a minute the glimpse of eternity that we should stretch out over the whole of time."

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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