Prayer: Sniffing and Sifting for the Kingdom

by Melannie Svoboda SND on June 22, 2020

I was thinking about prayer the other day. (I confess: it’s often easier to think about prayer than it is to pray!) And I was thinking about some metaphors for prayer. (Whenever I’m musing over metaphors, I’m in good company, for Jesus was a master of metaphor: “I am the vine… fear not, little flock… the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet…”)

(All photos from Pexels)

Anyway, here are two metaphors for prayer that I came up with—neither of which is original to me: sniffing and sifting. They are based on the fact that the Kingdom of God in our midst is not always obvious; God’s presence and action in our life is not always readily perceivable; truth, beauty, and goodness in our daily life are not always visible. So we must sniff out the kingdom. And we must sift through the stuff of daily life to find God–or (as the title of one of my books puts it), we must rummage for God in all the nooks and crannies of our lives.

Many years ago I heard a priest say, “We must all develop kingdom noses.” He meant we must go through life sniffing for God’s kingdom. To demonstrate, he walked across the stage with his nose up in the air, sniffing. It was an unforgettable sight! Though we may not actually see that Kingdom, we can catch its scent—and the scent alone can both sustain us and direct us.

Think of all the times you’ve detected the aroma of something you love. Perhaps as a child, you came into the house after a strenuous afternoon of playing, and you smelled chocolate chip cookies baking. You didn’t see the cookies, but the aroma was enough to bring a wide smile to your face. The scent alone may have even influenced your behavior. You thought you had to be good to be worthy of those cookies. And the aroma was a kind of promise too, of “perfect joy” in the future! So too, good prayer brings deep joy. It affects all our decisions and choices. It constantly reminds us of God’s promises.

Mmmmmm!

Prayer, then, makes us more attentive to the aromas of goodness all around us: compassion, gentleness, courage, joy, beauty, loving relationships, heroic generosity. Prayer can also help us notice what “stinks” in life (greed, hatred, dishonesty, war, poverty, divisiveness, violence to our planet). But good prayer helps us detect the aromas that will eventually lead us to lessen or even eradicate life’s bad odors.

Then there’s prayer as sifting. When I was a little girl I liked baking cakes from scratch. That meant I had to sift the flour. When I asked my mother why I had to sift the flour (it seemed like such a bother), she said sifting would remove any lumps in the flour. And it would make the cake lighter. Similarly, prayer can remove the “lumps” in our lives. It can make our journey on earth a little lighter.

Another image of sifting comes from the old westerns I used to watch on TV as a kid. The cowboys sometimes sifted for gold. They’d pour the dirt on a screen and shake it back and forth. The dirt went through the screen leaving behind clumps of dirt and pebbles. But sometimes what was left behind was a bright gold nugget! Prayer helps us to find the gold nuggets of life—genuinely good people, kind acts of strangers, a line from scripture that speaks to our very soul, the incredible mystery and beauty of our earth community.

African bush squirrel paraxerus meets homo sapiens.

Today, let us pray for “kingdom noses.” May our sense of smell be like that of the little beagle who keeps his nose to the ground in hopes of picking up a “heavenly scent.” And let us pray for patience as we sift through all the “stuff” of our daily life in search of that precious Gold Nugget of Divinity.

Did either of these metaphors speak to you and your experience with prayer? If so, how?

What other metaphors for prayer do you like?

Jesus was a “master of metaphor.” Is there one of his metaphors that you especially like? If so, which one and why?

PS: My new poetry book is out! Titled Picking Strawberries: Prayer-Poems to Nourish the Soul. It contains 61 poems and it can be purchased from Amazon.com for $12.95. (I don’t have any copies to sell yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.) I want to thank Kathleen Glavich, SND, for formatting and publishing the book for me. She is an incredible writer and editor–and a dear friend!

PPS: I’m giving a Zoom retreat July 13-19 entitled “How Can I Keep from Singing?” It consists of 12 conferences. For more information, go to: www.kingsretreatcenter.org or call (618) 397-0584. This is the Belleville, IL retreat center that is sponsoring this retreat.

Our song today is Carrie Newcomer’s exquisite song, “Holy as the Day Is Spent.” In simple word and picture, the song underscores the theme of this reflection: daily prayer keeps us in touch with the sacredness of the ordinary and the everyday…

I invite you to respond below to the reflection, readers’ comments, pictures, or video. We love hearing from you!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

John Hopkins June 22, 2020 at 5:38 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all….

A lot to think about here!

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God could be likened to giving someone a cold cup of water. I love the simplicity of this image, and perhaps one that readily comes to mind because of the high temps we’ve experienced here in Massachusetts the last couple of days!

But a few winters ago, when we were beset by a seemingly endless barrage of snowstorms, I “tasted” the Kingdom of God. We were once again shoveling the driveway, when our next door neighbor called from her kitchen door, “Who’d like a brownie?” It was dark, we were tired, and suddenly our neighbor offers us manna from heaven!

The Kingdom of God is delicious!

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Kathleen Magiera June 22, 2020 at 7:02 am

Good Morning Sr. Melannie and friends!

I like the idea of a “kingdom nose” and sniffing around for God. What a perfect metaphor! An aroma is not visible or audible.

Keep on sniffing.

Kathleen

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Thomas DeFreitas June 22, 2020 at 7:46 am

I think of prayer — particularly that of the rosary — as a “corrective lens,” improving my vision of the world. Then, I think of my quieter prayer, meditation or chair-prayer, as “basking in the God-glow.”

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Steve Hadwiger June 22, 2020 at 7:51 am

Thank you, Sr. Svoboda. You wl AHS give me pause to reflect. I remember years ago a priest who led our Bible study and had been a missionary informed us that theKingdom of God the was not going to be found smelling fragrant. He said more likely you will smell earthy smells of the poor. One of Megan McKenna’s parables is about a turtle rescued from danger by a vulture. The turtle kept complaining about the awful smell of the vulture until the vulture finally let go and dropped the turtle. Jesus, our own Lord, probably did not smell fragrant while He was hanging on the Cross. Sometimes, we choose to follow smells that lead us away from Jesus.

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Jean Canatsey June 22, 2020 at 8:04 pm

Love this!

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SisterMaryEamon Lyng June 22, 2020 at 8:33 am

Good morning, Melannie,
What a beautiful way to begin the week. The “ordinary” becomes the “extraordinary” in gratitude for the simple things in life. God makes the simple beautiful. In these days that have been challenging, your reflection is a wonderful way to begin the week. Thank you. Many blessings upon you and all you do and share with us to keep life in perspective with gratitude. I look forward to your new book. Peace, Sr. Eamon

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Pete June 22, 2020 at 8:49 am

Sometimes when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, we keep on sniffing. For me, it makes everything relevant. Thanks again, Sister, for jump starting my week.

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joan metzger June 22, 2020 at 8:52 am

Good Morning,
The song really moved me today. There are so many ways that God sends his love to us, if only we look at them with the eyes of our heart and soul.

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Mary P June 22, 2020 at 10:36 am

Thank you for today’s post. I’ve always been fascinated by our senses and how God uses each one to speak to us. Our sense of smell also triggers memories. Whenever I get a whiff of boxwood, I am transported to The Jesuit Center in PA, which has boxwood bushes in the gardens around the house. I also love the song – a reminder of St. Ignatius’ belief “finding God in all things”!

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Jeanie June 22, 2020 at 10:51 am

I find your posts so relatable! They are gentle nudges to be better and do better. Thank you for your positivity.

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marilyn woidat June 22, 2020 at 2:28 pm

Easiest chocolate chip cookie recipe ever!

one egg beaten, add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. baking soda,
1/2 cup peanut butter, stir well and add 1/2cup chocolate chips.
Drop a teaspoon of dough in rows onto a greased cookie sheet.
Preheat oven to 350′ and bake in middle if oven for 12 min.
Yum!

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Jean Canatsey June 22, 2020 at 8:35 pm

Thank you for this recipe!

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Jean Canatsey June 22, 2020 at 8:25 pm

I love the idea of sniffing and sifting. I remember sifting flour with my grandmother in the 1940’s. She always told me that we were sifting out the weevils that grew normally in flour. My husband worked part time for A&P about 1960 and told me that they would open 3 or 4 sample bags of flour and if they found four weevils in a boxcar of flour, they sent it back.
As to Jesus’ metaphors, my husband particularly likes the one about leaving the 99 sheep to search for the one. I like the story of the Prodigal Son. I met an incarcerated gentleman about 15 years ago who became like a son to me. I shared a piece of music with him called, “Can I Still Come Home.” We have had our ups and downs over the ensuing years and when the distance widens between us, I will get this message, “Can I Still Come Home?” I always answer, “You can still come home” and the fences are mended. I like to think of God that way.

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Annie June 22, 2020 at 9:02 pm

Congratulations on your new book! I’m looking forward to reading it!

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Judy Dieter June 22, 2020 at 10:36 pm

I tried to order your new book of poetry on Amazon, but they didn’t have it.
Guess I’ll just have to wait.
BTW, I loved the beautiful song you included. It made my day.

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