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home : columnists : columnists November 18, 2017

The smells and the bells and what they conjure in the soul

By Teri Ditslear
Joy in the Journey

Halloween, it used to be my favorite holiday. Especially as a child, dressing up, running like feral animals through the neighborhood, collecting as much candy as my pillowcase would hold. After our haul, my brother, sister and I would spread our loot onto the floor of the living room and start to organize the candy. Chocolates in one pile, chewy in another, hard candy in the next and then the miscellaneous pile.

The disparate treasures could be anything from a coin, to a soda, a piece of fruit or even a toothbrush from our neighborhood dentist. Then the trading would commence. After thoughtful bartering we hoarded our collection, eating what our parents allowed us, and what was left over at Christmas was thrown out.

My favorite candy, of the Halloween variety, is the chewy molasses taffy wrapped in black and orange waxed paper. It still is one of my favorites, and I hardly ever see it anymore. Just like most memories it is not the candy, the costumes or the trick or the decorations that give me fond memories, but the whole experience of a crowd of people doing the same thing at the same time.

Many churches have gone away from using symbolism, or offering a sensory experience in their church liturgy, some say it is to not offend people, others say "we don't need art, we need simplicity." For me, the symbols and art of the church, including music, captures a place in my soul that can be retrieved at any given moment. The hum of hymn which becomes the proverbial ear worm is strangely comforting.

The cross, of course, is the thing we meditate on as Christians. Looking at the cross and praying, we seem to understand the depth of love God has for us. Art and familiar symbols speak words to us that sometimes are difficult to articulate in understandable words.

When I think of worship in my childhood, it is the Catholic Church that gives me the most vivid memories. The smells and bells, some would say are sign posts that point to God. Maybe, my taste of the Catholic faith is why as a Protestant Lutheran, my love for art and music are intertwined with my love of the church and God. It is not the symbols themselves, or the music, or the smell of dusty hymnals or fresh bread baking, but what it conjures up in my soul.

It is my hope that as a place of worship, we are stirring up people's souls not just with the words preached and proclaimed, but that they remember the smells and the bells, and it brings them into their remembrance of who God is and how much God loves them.

Noblesville's Teri Ditslear is a pastor whose column appears Saturdays in The Times. Contact her at pastor@rolcommunity.com, on Facebook or at www.rolcommunity.com

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