On Hold

by Melissa Taft
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by Laurie Klein

Mama deserves a gift. That’s what I think.

When she leaves the house, I scurry into the kitchen. I gather a funnel, bud vase, and empty jar. Puffy slippers carry me soundlessly into her room. Click, goes the door. 

On her dresser, assorted colognes glint on a mirrored tray. I sniff each one, carefully tip vial after uncorked vial, half-filling my jar until . . . 

Is she back already? Quick, to the attic! 

The top floor of our house smells gray and used up, like forgotten dishrags. Bare studs frame a little room containing the front dormer. I hoist the sash. A shiver. A whiff of snow. Then: to work. Eight-year-old hands funnel the liquid bouquet into the vase, then mash in a wad of tissue to seal it. 

Now, to await the right moment.

“Goodness,” Mama says. Drawing me close, her wrist perfumed with countless mixed blooms, she murmurs, “What could be sweeter?” 

Decades later

Today, surrounded by cut pine and paperwhites, I’m on hold, transitioning from Thanksgiving to Advent anticipation. The bowed head lifts, expectant, longing for peace.  

By varying degrees, we enter the seasonal segue.

The segue, by definition, initiates blend. It’s a seamless passage from one image, song, scene, or mood to the next. Our sensibilities register an indelible trace of what has already flowered—even as we move toward sensations yet to unfurl. 

If I could concoct a cologne for awaiting our savior’s birth, I’d call it Soul Shift. 

Perfumery 101 

The formula for a fragrance comprises base notes, heart notes, and head notes.

Is it fanciful to liken my recent focus on giving thanks to those “base notes”? Foundational scents like vanilla, musk, or sandalwood linger the longest, up to six hours. Spiritually speaking, thankfulness also carries over. Our expressions of gratitude bless the receiver; they also leave a residue of tenderness in our spirit. 

However, during protracted waiting, we feel restive. Stalled out. Sustaining active trust under stress requires we commit to faith, again and again. Thank heavens grace meets us, making our yielded, inmost being a modest Bethlehem. This, too, corresponds to preparing perfume. The “heart notes”—jasmine, cinnamon, or cardamom—comprise 70% of the blend. Lacking reapplication, they evanesce, lasting less than an hour. 

With so much pending around us, staying present this season compares with the “head notes.” Orange, lemon, lavender, rose—these first-impression aromas seize our attention. Amid holiday distractions a quiet focus proves fleeting as citrus and herb, lasting only minutes. 

Wise fragrance chemists rely on diverse, individual notes. Ideally, they come into harmony, known as the perfume accord. They also know a sample spritz from the tester alters, depending on time, temperature, body chemistry, and other factors. Perfume is mercurial. 

For all who desire to pause—or find themselves conflicted within a forced pause—this time of year, waiting is layered. Complex. Costly.

Consider the Nativity. Mute Zechariah longs for his voice to return. Elizabeth and Mary daily make ready for John and Jesus. Joseph, seeking lodging, endures repeated delays. Herod paces and plots. The Magi ceaselessly watch the star. Simeon and Anna mark time in the temple. 

Waiting permeates as well as perfumes the Christmas story. Birthday frankincense rubs shoulders with myrrh, a burial spice. 

Birth. Death. Resurrection. We recall the details of the first Advent, engage with this one, and anticipate Christ’s return. 

Once and already here. Ever arriving. Still to come. Base notes. Heart notes. Head notes.

The final synthesis

A memory launched this post: “Mama deserves a gift.” What will I offer my savior today? An outpouring akin to the woman with the alabaster jar? More likely, something well-intentioned, yet awkward. 

Drawn afresh to the manger, breathe in with me the perfume accord: the tingling blue chill of starlight; summer rain captured in hay; the coppery tang of blood. In all ways, may waiting suffuse life with unparalleled fragrance: the knowledge of Christ. 

2 Corinthians 2:15

To learn more: Fragrance Notes: Everything You Need to Know – FragranceX.com

Photo by Ulysse Pointcheval on Unsplash

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God’s world is full of wonder–meditate on something beautiful and experience the awe. Pairing images with prayers, we offer many different types of artful focus for your quiet times. Prayer cards are available for different seasons and reasons from Advent to Lent or as Celtic prayers, Breath prayers, prayers of Wonder, or prayers for a Pause. Most are available to download, or in sets of 1 or 3–so you can enjoy in your own devotions and gift some beauty to a friend! Visit our shop to see our many selections!

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