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The other day, my husband asked me if I knew how late the local barbeque joint was open. I did. Their catchy jingle (telling me not to be late because they close at eight) leapt from my mouth like saliva from one of Pavlov’s pooches. Today I’ve got an online shopping site’s theme song rattling around in my brain. With all the pressing business of my day, I’m stuck jauntily rhyming about home goods. That’s productive. But at least it isn’t the maudlin ‘70s classic “Please Come to Boston” which ran on an endless, depressing loop last night at the aforementioned barbeque joint. They say the only way to replace an earworm is with another. Hey, Brain, job well done!

It’s funny how responsive we are to sensory triggers. There is a certain dusty, fake fir smell that will always say “Christmas” to me, no matter how old I get. Just as Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” will always take me back to the auditorium at St. Joseph grade school, to the 8th grade dances that were supposed to teach us kids how to socialize.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have those same sensory experiences of God? To be able to call to mind that most intense of relationships through smell or hearing or touch or taste? Our relationship with God is so cerebral, so very out of body. That’s why it was so important that God sent Jesus to us: God’s word made flesh, because flesh, as the great Catholic novelist Mary Gordon reminds us, is lovable. It’s why we hug people we haven’t seen in a long time. There is something priceless about memories forged through the senses.

So why can’t there be an earworm for God? Why can’t I get something pure, something holy, stuck in my brain instead of a second-rate advertisement? Because pure and holy things aren’t blasted at us with the same regularity as second-rate advertisements, that’s why. If only the smell of cinnamon said, “Let go and let God” to me! If only the sight of a bare tree in winter brought Mary’s Magnificat to my lips! How much better would my life be if only I could get in touch with God as readily as I can get in touch with the operating hours of the local barbeque joint?

I did a lot of memorization in Catholic school: the Holy Days of Obligation, the Stations of the Cross. But I still can’t rattle those things off with the same rapidity at which I can recite the lyrics to every single ABBA song ever written. Why is this? Why don’t things of God stick in my mind when so many worthless things do? What’s more, how can I fix this?

Maybe I can’t. Maybe God will always be harder to reach than the jingle for a local business. And maybe that’s the point, the challenge. I need to tune out the earworms to hear God. It will take effort. It will mean disengaging from the sensory triggers all around me, going to a deeper place, a quieter place.

Fortunately, God is worth it. And He never closes at eight.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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