The Sacred Pathway of the Sensate (Part 3)
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Sword4Sail and is Part 3 in the Sacred Pathways of Walking With God.
Sensates – Loving God With the Senses
You’re a little nervous. Dad’s got this solemn look on his face, and – he’s never done this before – is painting blood around the outside of your front door. Mom is making lamb for dinner, and this really unappetizing looking bread – no yeast! You like your bread fluffy. You hope she’ll put some nice spices in with the meat to counteract the blandness. As you take off your shoes to relax for dinner, your parents instruct you to put your shoes back on, put on your coat, and get ready as if to leave the house. The smell of the blood from the door mingles in the air as you force down your lamb – seasoned with bitter herbs. You go to bed with the smells and tastes fresh in your mind. As you drift off to sleep, the crying, wailing, and screaming starts… To this day, even as a 40 year old, you do not forget the tastes, smells, and sounds of your first Passover.
This Biblical account of the passover in Exodus 12 demonstrates God’s engagement of the senses when engaging in the lives of His people. This next temperament, the Sensate, is one in which God is loved through the engagement of the senses.
God is a sensory God. “Biblical accounts of the glory of God in heaven are elaborate affairs and rarely quiet, to say the least (62),” writes Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways. Just check out Ezekiel’s experience in Ezekiel 1 and 2. There’s flashes of lightning, living creatures who’s wings make the noise of many waters, and Ezekiel eats a scroll described as sweet, like honey. In Revelation 4, John reports a voice sounding like a trumpet, incense (Revelation 8), and creatures worshiping God whom I challenge you to try to draw pictures of. Even the lamb, Christ, has seven horns and seven eyes. Says Thomas, “Those who think only silence is reverent may be a bit uncomfortable in heaven, and this is the lesson we learn from the sensate (63).”
God created the senses, and He employs sound, smell, touch, sight and taste to teach and remind His people of His truths and promises. Particularly, He commands us to worship Him with sound! Psalm 96 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth,” and in Psalm 150 we are told to praise God with a trumpet, lute, harp, flute, and cymbals. I have found that to prepare myself to worship God, I need to sing of His character, love, promises. I need to engage my voice and ears to soften my mind and heart. When singing in congregation, if the music is too loud or off-key, it is extremely hard for me to come to worship, and I may adopt a critical attitude.
Smell can also be used to prepare ourselves for worship. In Revelation 8, an angel is given incense to “Offer it with the prayers of all the saints… before the throne.” Thomas writes, “Physiologically our minds are sharpened and altered in the presence of incense (69).” Smell can condition a person to consciously enter into the presence of God. I have burnt candles when spending time with God and when being intimate with my husband. Through the sense of smell, I draw comparison of the intimacy of both times, and am reminded of that intimacy when I smell my candle.
Touch is another important and often overlooked sense used for worship. “Touch with our lips is a way to recognize something as precious,” says Thomas (69). Orthodox worship involves frequent kissing, like of an alter or cross. Thomas tells a story of being in the attic, pulling out some clothes from the infant years of a then-grown daughter, and kissing them without thinking. How much more should we be moved by the reality of the cross? God also uses touch as the sign of the New Covenant He has made with believers: baptism. The feel water is a powerful reminder of God’s cleansing in your life.
I challenge you to read about and imagine the building of God’s tabernacle in Exodus 35. He called men by name and filled them with His Spirit to be gifted artisans. Beauty matters to God, and it is acceptable to Him to surround yourself with beauty while worshiping. This includes the building. The way a room is designed can draw you to the heavens, surround you with God’s presence, or make you feel cold or cramped. Sight is also used in prayer. We are taught to pray with our eyes closed, but it can be helpful to look at something to add sincerity to our words. I have a friend who asked for an old I.D. card of mine because he collected them from people to remember to pray for them.
We are told to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” in Psalm 34. You remember the story of the Passover. Now we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – but not without actually eating and drinking. The Bible talks of knowing a Christian by their fruit. Thomas invites us to remember this truth the next time we bite into a delicious apple or a mealy one (75). Jesus is the bread of life. We are the salt of the earth. The sense of taste is an invitation to experience God.
But there are some temptations associated with the Sensate temperament. You can worship without conviction. Thomas puts it perfectly, “[through song] I promise to bow before the Lord, to proclaim his name to the ends of the earth, and to go so far as to die to express my faith. Yet these words may be sung with scarcely more emotion than I feel when I’m ordering a hamburger. How often do we Christians take the Lord’s name in vain during our worship?” (76) We can’t become callous with what we are doing. Beauty and worship can also be idolized and loved more than God. We must remember that beauty can be a channel to being in the presence of God, but nothing should steal our heart from the only One worthy of worship. You can easily be “put in the mood” by music and lighting, but as always, God cares about your heart.
Try some of the suggestions in this post! Take the quiz! Engage your senses and love God with and through them. And don’t forget to check back next Friday to check out the next spiritual temperament: The Traditionalist.
Are You a Sensate?
Score these statements on a scale of 1 – 5. 1 is not true and 5 is very true. Any score of 15 or higher indicates a tendency toward this spiritual temperament. Keep track of your scores to create a spiritual profile at the end of these blog posts!
1. I feel closest to God when I’m in a church that allows my senses to come alive – when I can see, smell, hear, and almost taste His majesty.
2. I enjoy attending a “high church” service with incense and formal Communion or Eucharist.
3. I’d have a difficult time worshiping in a church building that is plain or worshiping through second-rate Christian art or music.
4. The words sensuous, colorful, and aromatic are very appealing to me.
5. I’m naturally drawn to museums and concerts more than I’m inclined to take a walk in the woods, work in a soup kitchen, or read a book by myself.
6. I would really enjoy using drawing exercises, icons, or music playing in the background to improve my prayer life.
Sword4Sail is a young, newlywed tomboy who’s discovering her feminine side with her God’s-grace-filled husband.
Together they are trying to live out what it means to be give-it-everything-hold-nothing-back followers of Christ. They are currently exploring the realms of building relationships with others when they both work second shift and handling finances wisely…
1. Part 1 of: Sacred Pathways of Walking with God Longing to know and be known? Longing to love and be loved? Are you routinely frustrated with your quiet time and prayer life? Sword4Sail introduces us to Sacred Pathways and shares her thoughts on Gary Thomas’ book.
2. The Sacred Pathway of The Naturalist – Part 2 “The Bible was meant to be read out of doors.”