By Christine Norvell
How do you teach beauty? The concept of beauty is not a light thought but a worthy one. As I attended a summer seminar on teaching and writing about beauty, I quickly realized how much is contained in a single word. Many rich books were referenced, and one book in particular captured me by its title alone, The Fragrance of God.
As he travels through the seasons, Vigen Guroian expounds upon the nature of beauty through the sense of smell. We are the fragrance of Christ after all to those being saved, an aroma of life that leads to life (2 Corinthians 2:15). Guroian writes, “I have thought a lot about the gift of our senses that in youth run wild and that later in life we neglect or abuse. A blessing of our middle years may be that in slowing down, God gives us the chance . . . to return to our senses with new wonder. Smell, not sight, is the most mystical sense. The garden has persuaded me of this.”
Guroian eagerly references the writings of St. Ephrem, Origen, and St. Bonaventure as he expounds upon smell. God infuses the air with his Presence, and there are moments we are awakened to it. Fragrance itself stirs longing, but the Garden is a bittersweet metaphor. We can never have the harmony nor intimacy Adam and Even shared with God in the Garden before the fall, but we can reorient our senses to respond to ordinary moments of grace because we have hope—
“ . . . but on the day of Resurrection
The body with all its senses,
Will enter in as well, once it has been made perfect.” —St. Ephrem
Guroian next moves into describing his personal home garden, its beds, and the lush acres he lives on. Working there is a connection point to the earth, the thing we will return to in death (John 12:24). The garden becomes archetype, “the place where we knew nature before innocence was lost.” And with a touch of humor, Guroian cites Sir Thomas Browne who wrote that the garden was established on the third day of creation before the gardeners came along. Ultimately, we are a garden ourselves like Christ was—a seed that died, was buried, and came to life to bring life. God never left Eden, but is present there, speaking through all of our senses.
Gardening, then, becomes a mirror for Paradise. It’s not about gardening for food, but rather for beauty. It’s a place of communion with God as all of our senses delight in Him and His creation. And that may be this little book’s only blemish. Fragrance is but a small part of the garden metaphor, but the metaphor abounds in all the senses that beget beauty.
Christine Norvell is an author, speaker, and longtime educator. She graduated from Faulkner University’s Great Books program with a Masters in Humanities and teaches high school literature and humanities at a classical Christian school. She is the author of Till We Have Faces: A Reading Companion (2017) and writes weekly at her website christinenorvell.com.