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When you've travelled hundreds of miles on foot,  and suffered a nagging physical disability;  when you've been flogged,  imprisoned and half-drowned,  you get to know a good deal about the human body.   So St Paul really knows what he's talking about in that famous description of the body's unity:  made up of living members,  each deserving its own place,  yet all together forming a living whole.   You know the kind of thing.   If the ear says,  'I'm not the eye I don't belong to the body',  is it therefore not part of the body?   If the whole were hearing,  where would the smelling be?   But God has set every one of the members in the body as it pleased him.   And if they were all one member,  where would the body be?

Now I'm glad the apostle slipped in that reference to smelling,  if only because noses don't get much of a press in the Bible.   In fact, almost all the references to noses  -  and there aren't many of them  -  appear in the Old Testament,  mostly in connection with a removal so horrible I won't mention it.

But noses are actually a very important part of our make-up.   Without them we'd have to breathe through our mouths,  which are far too busy already to take on extra work.   And a nose can be a source of exquisite pleasure,  catching the rich scent of a flower,  or sniffing the aroma of home cooking,  or taking a deep breath of fresh air after escaping from a stuffy room.

Now I enjoy the sight of a handsome nose of any kind,  from your strong Roman nose to your delicate aristocrat's nose;  but I particularly admire my dog's nose.   Not so much for its shape as for its refinement,  and its amazing sensitivity.

That moist,  stubby organ gives him access to a paradise undreamed of by mere human beings.

Consider him,  planted in front of the cold air vent in my car;  quivering with pleasure,  as the flow of the air current brings in a multitude of invisible excitements,  to be sniffed,  savoured,  and delicately distinguished,  one from another.   A never-ending flood of riches,  borne on the air from the world outside.

Or see him,  first thing in the morning,  tail up,  nose to the ground,  scenting the tracks of vanished creatures of the dawn.   With the skill of a Red Indian and the fearless curiosity of a David Livingstone exploring the wilds of Africa,  my dog follows the invisible paths of hedgehog,  snail,  the next door poodle,  cat and paper boy,  through cross trails and labyrinths of scent that mean nothing whatever to me.   His eager nose gives him entry to a universe of scents,  fragrances,  aromas, smells and perfumes, complete in itself,  rich beyond my comprehension,  and forever lost to my poor instrument of smell.

Now I celebrate this extraordinary faculty,  so sharp and acute in my dog,  and so dull and feeble in me,  not to raise up a new Religion of the Nose,  but to point a lesson.

Through our senses we make contact with the physical world all around us.   And if we choose,  we can live out our lives on that level,  splashing about on the surface of things,  but never daring to dive deeper.

But we need not be restricted to a life of immediate sensation.   Those same marvellous faculties which we share with the animal world can give us intimations of much profounder experiences;  they can give us access to the invisible world of the spirit,  blowing in through the vents and windows of the sensible world.   There to be found by a questing nose.

'We look not at things which are seen,  but at the things which are not seen',  said St Paul,  'for the things which are seen are temporal,  but the things which are not seen are eternal.'

Take a really deep breath.   You may catch a whiff of the everlasting garden of heaven.

© Colin Gibson



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