Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It's the largest bottle I can find – the good stuff. Name brand and chemically altered to smell like fresh laundry on the line. “Linen Fresh,” the label promises.

I only hope it does the trick.

Weaving through the pews, I empty my can of air freshener in the fashion of a deacon swinging his golden censer. The fragrance scatters and settles, along with my whispered prayers for the people who'd sat there that morning. Lord, rescue Carmen. Have compassion on her. Bring peace to her home. Bless Lilly, dear God. Give her new hope and a reason to go on. Help Jermaine. Oh Jesus, help him. Free him from the chains of addiction.

It had been a full house that Monday morning, like most. Over a hundred people had packed out the sanctuary for a worship service they were not obligated to attend. My neighbors could have easily sat outside and basked in the cool April weather, but they chose to come indoors, to sing hymns together, to read the Word, to hear it proclaimed.

Immediately following the service the numbers on their tickets were called. In groups of five they filed down to the church basement for a special rendition of the Lord's Supper: plastic bags filled with expired bread items, dented soup cans, unlabeled jars of applesauce, and last week's fried chicken. These are the items a small church can afford to purchase by palate from a food “recycling” center. They are piled high on greasy tables, sorted and bagged by the lucky few who had arrived at daybreak that morning to be handpicked from a queue. Tubs of lunch meat and a few extra rolls of toilet paper posed as a paycheck for their labor.

Before the crowd dispersed, the pastor held her hand to the sky in benedictory fashion, calling out, “... 67, 18, 43, 38 ...” as a lucky few were randomly chosen to receive a “sweet-box.” Inside this special box, one might find stale doughnuts or boxes of cupcakes too crushed for any store to sell. Today a grinning woman named Miss Penny had rushed to the door, her winning ticket raised in the air, and asked if there might possibly be a birthday cake in one of those boxes. Her grandson was turning three, she explained, and she wanted to throw him a party. When a drippy-iced cake was placed in her hands, Miss Penny oozed with gratitude.

By noon the entire service is over. The sanctuary is cleared of bodies, but left behind is a stench that hangs low in the air and pierces the soul. It is the smell of alcohol and marijuana and cheap cigarettes. It is the smell of stale urine, soiled diapers, unwashed hair. It is the smell of sweaty children whose homes do not have running water. Of men who house all their belongings in duffel bags. Of teenage girls who sell sex so their pimps can have cash to buy drugs to lure more teenage girls.

It is the smell of old scabs that refuse to heal over.

The product in my hand promises to eliminate the most powerful of odors, but that's not exactly what I hope to do with it. Like the women who woke up early to perfume the broken, crucified body of Jesus, I see my work of spraying down the sanctuary as an act of worship. In the same way brightly colored banners adorn the walls, and the harmony of piano music fills the air, and the carpets are kept vacuumed and the pews freshly oiled, I want the air in this holy place to be soaked in beauty, in cleanliness, in hope. When my neighbors step into the church next week, I want them to inhale something besides the odor that clings to their bodies. I want them to sense a resurrected Savior, even through their noses.

I've completely emptied my can of air freshener today, so I will go to the store this afternoon. Maybe I will choose a new scent this time: Vanilla-Lavender Comfort or Springtime Renewal. Maybe Rainy Meadows to match the weather outside. Whatever the scent, I'm okay with paying a few extra dollars for the name-brand, big bottle.

As long as it's the good stuff.

1 comment:

  1. If only Febreze rocked the Nag Champa. :)

    Good stuff.