The human memory is a fascinating thing. Studies have shown that it can be pretty faulty at remembering details. Courts have recently publicly acknowledged that eyewitness testimonies can be unreliable at times since the mind doesn’t work like a movie camera. But the human memory has nearly unlimited storage capacity and remembers unexpected details. Certain significant events can burn those details into permanently retrievable memories. That’s why you’ll remember where you were on 9/11 or what you were wearing on a first date or what you ate at your child’s wedding.

Certain things can call up memories. I find that for many it takes a song or a smell to call up powerful memories; but not just recollections. Feelings. Can you remember the last time you heard a song come on that takes you back to a different time in your life? Maybe back to your prom or it reminds you of a certain relationship. For me, Here’s to the Night by Eve 6 reminds me of dating in high school. And then there are smells, even more powerful. Smells are like instant time machines. A whiff of something snaps you back to moments spent with your grandfather or gives you the feelings you felt at a certain time. For me, there’s a shampoo smell that takes me back several years to a time I was staying at a Disney resort on vacation. The resort shampoo had such a distinct smell to me. If I ever use a shampoo that smells similar I literally feel the excitement I did several years ago before I was about to head to the parks.

Praying with songs and smells
Saint Ignatius was a pretty sensual guy. He told his followers to let their senses be engaged in prayer. Either they were to imagine sights and sounds and smells in a gospel contemplation, or they were to pay attention to actual sensations they had and see where God might have been or what feelings they caused.

Ever considered praying with one of those memory inducing songs? Ever thought about meditating on a time-transporting smell?

Praying with specific details of our lives—like a certain experience or a certain feeling or whatever and wherever a song or smell takes you—lets God into the intimate parts of your life. God was there to begin with, but praying with them allows you to go deeper with God to explore the significance of that moment. If a smell reminds you of your deceased grandmother you can sit with the feeling the memory of her gives you. What might God be telling you through it? If a song brings up memories of a past relationship you can ask where God was in that relationship. What was good about it? What was not good?

Sometimes it just takes a song or a smell to let you know that God is in all the little details of your life. Perhaps those magic “sensual” moments are a way of God revealing something special to you.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod