Author: Mary Henton (page 2 of 7)

Another Image of Grace


When I was a child, in the 1950’s and early 60’s, my family lived in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, just south of Lake Erie, in the snow belt. Winters were snowy and bitter cold. My memories are of ice skating, sledding, and digging tunnels in the snow. Snow creaked underfoot from December to March, and piles from shoveled sidewalks towered over the heads of children young and old. Winter nights left a frost canvas on my bedroom window. In the early morning, my mother would squat and balance herself on the hot air floor vent in the kitchen and have her quiet time.

My mother had a mid-length, dark grey winter coat with a cowl neckline and faux fleece lining. This fleece was some mixture of cotton or wool woven and machine-carded to look and feel something like sheared wool. It was nothing like the fleece that NorthFace or L.L. Bean use in their pullovers. The fleece was deep and soft.

I remember how, in church or riding in the car, my mother would open her coat so I could sit on that fleece lining. She would fold that open side of the coat over me. She must have been cold. The plastic bench seats of our station wagon delayed warmth. The church sanctuary must have been drafty with its tall, uninsulated windows and wooden pews. But I was indifferent to my mother’s discomfort. I only knew her warmth and that soft fleece.

That was grace.

Untitled Abstract by Kathleen Grace

What does Grace (“free, unmerited favor,” not the person!) Smell Like?

Last week I was fortunate to participate in a conference organized by Writing for Your Life. Barbara Brown Taylor talked to us during two keynote sessions. If you know her work, you can appreciate what a gift that was. If you don’t know Barbara Brown Taylor’s work, get your hands on Learning to Walk in the Dark, or Leaving Church, or An Altar in the World today.

During one session this author-artist poked us to reimagine our religious vocabulary. I had never considered that my faith-based language is abstract. There isn’t any flesh on mercy. Sin may be black, but what color is redemption? Joy may rain down on the joyous, but that rain doesn’t soak through clothes and drip from eyebrows.

I use the words grace, mercy, peace, joy, reconciliation, and forgiveness the same way I use electricity here in my house in the US (in contrast with electricity usage in Beni). I don’t wonder about it. The electricity just is. I am not mindful when I flip a switch. I know what will happen. The light will turn on. I use the church language the same way.

During her talk, Barbara Brown Taylor teased us to think about how some of our religion words smell and taste and feel.

So the last few days I’ve been thinking about grace. What does grace smell like? Feel like? Taste like? I think grace smells like…

  • A just-curried horse in a stall of fresh hay. It’s warm, sweet, and savory.
  • Fresh lavender. Pungent but gentle, inviting me to breathe and settle.
  • An old-growth forest in mid-summer, with its thick, peat moss cologne. I smell shades of green and brown, leaf and bark.
  • A cold and heavy snowfall in the mountains. It’s so cold that there is no smell. The air is crystal. Lacking fragrance, it possesses essence. The wild cold chafes exposed nose and cheeks. My nostrils cling together on an inhale. I know nothing else for that moment.

And for you? What does grace smell like?

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