The Fragrance Principle
God uses us
to make the knowledge of Christ spread everywhere
like a sweet fragrance.
for we are like a sweet smelling incense offered by Christ to God
which spreads among those all—those who delight, those who are so far away…
Who then is capable for such a task?
God sent us, so we speak with sincerity, as Christ-followers.
–adapted from 2 Corinthians 2: 14ff
We are a sweet smelling fragrance, speaking with sincerity. This metaphor puts us alongside gardenias and lilacs—living ones who can communicate Divine Love with unfiltered immediacy. Fragrances of love, compassion, hope, healing wafting in and among life’s pain there for the ingestion of any and all who would get close enough to take a whiff.
God’s poetic crafting of such sensual powers of transformation means that so much of our embodied experience has this capacity to mediate truth and healing love. Our denial of this diminishes all life and distorts our ability to see and to smell and to taste God around us.
I decided to take this “fragrance principle” and apply it to something both mundane and painful about being embodied—what medical science calls PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Just those words, “premenstrual syndrome,” sound so ominous and forbidding. And that labeling of this time of unfiltered emotion and embodied experience that many women cycle through regularly has created such a feeling of foreboding about it for the larger culture. So the conventional wisdom of our time tells us when women enter this PMS time, the better part of valor is to steer clear of them. Just leave them alone because they are impossible to deal with, impossible to understand, maybe even impossible to love. This quarantine approach to women preparing to menstruate is evident in our cultural chatter from the voices of comedians to the drug prescriptions of doctors.
But when I apply this fragrance principle to PMS, I come up with a description categorically different than what we’ve been told by society about this time in our lives as women. We’ve been taught to loath it, to find ways to avoid it, and to feel shame in how harsh we are when we are in it. But the fragrance principle says that we are Christ’s messengers when we speak with sincerity, which most women who have discernible PMS do with utter clarity. In sincere speech we spread the love of Christ like incense. We are incense, perfume-makers, sources of ethereal plumes of something beautiful. This is absolutely counter to the intimate association we tend to make between PMS and being incensed as in angry, irritated, on edge, inflamed.
The fragrance principle tells us that PMS needs a new name so that we can discern the sensations, have the sensitivity to smell the Christ-like fragrances that come from this intense time in women’s life. This new name needs to point toward the liminality and power of this time. I’ve decided that Estrogenesis is my new name for PMS. This hormone induced state is about generating life—and we enter into it to usher in beginnings and to grieve culminations and losses. Estrogenesis is an estrogen driven new/rebirth with labor pains and all to go with it.
The veil is lifted in Estrogenesis—a monthly personal apocalypse, life and death conflated, swirling around in a body preparing to expel tissue, blood, fluid that could have been new life, but now needs to be sloughed off. Each expulsion is death and clearing; each is a painful cellular reality check that we cannot always nurture life but that we also let death flow through us. We must make space for new life, new growth, renewed cell division, baby blood cells, virgin tissue that anticipates possibilities.
Estrogenesis is a mandate for the sloughing cells to not pass in vain—somehow I must create, somehow I must give birth, and somehow I must take my time close, so close to the truth of life and death. Christ’s message of life lived fully engaged with suffering and redemption has the same mandate. Life cycles into death, but death does not have the last word. There is no shortcut through the wilderness of suffering–you can’t bypass Jerusalem.
Estrogenesis. How much can I stand? How much can I survive? How much do I need it to be softened for a while to steady myself for the next pangs of labor to set in? It is a concentrated brush with the travail of the Christian walk–joyfilled, anticipatory, but also excruciating in its proximity to death and the consequences of truth.
What if we let Estrogenesis be a time when women were given space to grieve and create and be fragrances of vital life truths? What if we had ways of holding women tenderly during this time of loss and rebirth, instead of shaming them about how fragile they feel? What if women who experience Estrogenesis could create, write, draw, sing through those times and to share our creations with the world? Can we let ourselves create from this space we occupy a few days a month when the veil is lifted and life’s pain and promise are so intense that we are engulfed by it in every cell in our bodies. Perhaps the expressions wafting from this embodied poetics are the fragrances of Christ-living, the hard won integrity of knowing Divinity must be close by and compassionate. What wisdom is there waiting to be born?
4 thoughts on “The Fragrance Principle”
Marcia, these are inspirational words. I haven’t thought till you wrote about this how much we are not owners of our own bodies during this time. We have let culture tell us how to think about a natural, needed stage in our growth. Joy and wisdom is ours if we accept rather than fight these moments in our lives.
Thank you, Lyn. You are right–thinking of our bodies as intimately connected to all that is is not how we are formed in American culture. And it diminishes how we are able to hear and live out of our body’s wisdom in times of intense embodied experience. I like your invitation to accept. Maybe then we can use our energy to listen.
Be still and know that God is God
Be still and know God
Be still and Know
I recited this mantra to myself today as I began today’s acupuncture appointment. It was a long and busy day at work and I knew my pulse was racing and my body was not yet ready to receive the healing treatment. (I have seen an acupuncturist for the last 13 months for infertility. I read this post previously and it affected me deeply; I was so grateful for this new language to describe PMS. Eastern medicine also uses some of the same metaphors.)
As the needles went in their “usual places” – face, tummy, lower legs, thumb, etc. – I could feel myself calming down. In previous sessions I have experienced the physical sensation of qi, and again today, I felt it gather in my womb, pulsing outward toward the rest of my body. Then I could feel qi shifting, and I felt it aligned along one side of my body. I felt like a sponge, when the dried-up edge is exposed to water, slowly expanding while the other side stayed its smaller size. Though I had not moved at all, my spine felt curved into the half-moon yoga pose. In about four or five breaths, I felt the qi move to the other side, and the sponge sensation switched accordingly.
After two or three full repetitions of qi flowing from the yin side to the yang side of my body, I noticed it felt like I was gently held by waves. I was experiencing being inside the body of God – the womb of God – and the qi that is in my body is the same qi in all of us and in God. It’s like I was experiencing being the incense offered to to God and simultaneously experiencing inhaling deeply in that sweet incense. At that moment the most intense and physical surge of love washed over me. I started to cry. I have never before felt so loved, so received, and so open to God’s healing touch. It has always been there, lapping at the shores inside my body, patiently keeping time in the cycles of life. Today I was still enough to feel it. I feel like Simeon.
Thank you, Alicia, for this beautiful story your body tells. I am thankful to think abou the flowing qi and the waves of God’s love.