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More than Words

September 16, 2022

Terry Steele

When my wife and I discovered that our eldest son, Josh, was on the Autism spectrum, we were crushed. I remember crying to my father. I just wanted to have a conversation with my son or hear him say, "Hi Daddy!" I was convinced that it would never happen.

One day, we drove to a restaurant that we frequented. When we got within view of the restaurant, Josh started rocking back and forth in his car seat. He exclaimed, "Chips and salsa! Chips and salsa!" We were shocked. He was obviously expressing his delight and excitement about going to the restaurant. We discovered that Josh could communicate his limited idea with food because food is Josh's "love language." There are many ways to communicate. My boy's verbal expression came from an especially powerful tool, smell and taste.

At CultureBound we talk about the 12 Languages of Culture. When used wisely, these can improve cross-cultural communication significantly. Most people are oblivious to the power of the least conscious forms of communication, specifically olfactory communication. We simply don't think that much about taste and smell.

When was the last time smell and taste communicated an idea to us? Did you put on cologne or perfume? Have you walked in the Rose Gardens? Do you remember the smell of holiday spices during certain times of the year? My sister's family showed their love for Josh on his birthday by giving him a giant bag of tortilla chips and a specialty salsa. He marched around the room holding his bag of chips as if it were a bag of gold. Smell and taste have a tremendous impact on humans, but conscious recognition is uncommon.

Think about when you were walking home from school on a winter's day. The smells that greeted you as you entered the house might have included homemade bread, spiced cider, and hot chocolate. Those times filled your heart with delight and memories. Memories stored in smells and tastes are often associated with certain emotions.

While verbal communication can add clarity and precision, it lacks the power of olfactory communication. Smell and taste lack precision but can bring powerful emotions.

Even the Bible uses smell and taste liberally. Psalm 34:8 (ESV) says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"

The many feasts of Israel like Passover, First Fruits, or Purim, included alternative foods like flatbread or Haman's ears. Sacrifices offered with incense to God were a "pleasing aroma to the Lord." Jesus implemented Communion, also called the Lord's Supper, with the bread and the cup.

What was the purpose of emphasizing taste and smell during all the different celebrations? Sharing meals together creates a common bond of like-minded people through a shared experience. Olfactory communication increases our bond with each other and with the God who created us. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, (ESV), believers are called "the pleasing aroma of Christ." Our prayers arise as incense to the Lord (Rev. 5:8). When we eat and drink of Jesus, we experience nourishment and intimacy.

Terry Steele, D.Miss, PhD, brings knowledge and experience in teaching through his thorough education. He has taught at a university and regularly writes academic articles and research pieces.


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