I learned to wash myself with incense in Japan.
How to douse the tiny fires with a firm blast of air from my hand, freeing the smoke to rise and dance. How to pour it over my head, letting humility settle gently on my shoulders. How to slowly breathe it in, purifying me from the inside out. How to twirl it around my hand like a wisp of hair, that what ails it, too, might be made whole.
I went to Mass at the Abbey today. Incense poured down the aisle like a carpet rolled out before the Gospel, breaking over the monks processing in statio, urging them onward, onward, pushing them two by two over the edge into the depths.
We sang, we prayed, we proclaimed, we preached, we sacre-ed the gifts. I slid down the pew to join the procession to receive, stepping off the edge to find myself bathed in incense that had hovered patiently all this time in the aisle. Pouring over my head, like baptism. ...and my soul shall be healed.
This is grace that clings. Not like the water splashed on forehead, dashed onto to my shoulders, awkwardly left dripping from my hands, its molecules making a mad dash into the atmosphere. I am enveloped, infiltrated. I imagine it resting in pools in my lungs, swirling out each time I speak, seeping onto my pillow with each breath, surrounding me as I sleep. I am an indwelling of the Spirit.
Hours later I can still smell it on my hands, reminded again and again that I am forgiven, I am healed, I am sacre-ed. Each time I raise my cup of tea, or set my glasses more firmly on my nose, its scent gathers my frayed prayers together, and sends them aloft.