What We’re Reading: The Scent of Water

“My dear, love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these,
               ‘Lord have mercy.
                                 Thee I adore.
                                              Into Thy hands.’

Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.” [1]

The Scent of Water shares cousin Mary’s journey as formed by these prayers. The book title is a reference from Job’s miraculous hope for a long-dead tree:  “yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (Job 14:9). In these strange COVID-19 days, hope is being tested, and the ruler of the power of the air is tempting us to a deadened, darkened, despairing outlook. The Scent of Water is a like a healing dose of convalescent plasma from an author who has experienced the fathomless renewing grace of God in her own seasons of darkness.

Elizabeth Goudge is an exquisite observer who re-sensitizes us to the ever-present beauty of creation. Reading this passage helped me see afresh the apple tree in our garden that’s currently in the same magical state:

“They crossed the road to the orchard and leaned on the gate, the scent of apple blossom coming to them on the light wind. From the crimson of the unopened buds to the white of the fully opened petals, every gradation of rose color was present in flights and drifts on the lichened branches. The apple trees were old and it seemed a miracle that such misshapen age could support this airy lightness.” [2]

Goudge’s keen observations of human foibles are warm-hearted and gracious. The characters in The Scent of Water learn to bear their own weaknesses kindly and love one another well.  I laughed out loud at this endearing glimpse into the inner workings of Appleshaw’s priest:

“He took the cup without comment but sucked his cheeks in and out, as was his habit when suppressing comment. The suppression of comment was always difficult for him and the movement of his facial muscles was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual victory.” [3]

What is The Scent of Water about? It’s about hope that will carry us through deep depression, and grace that can rescue even from the darkest temptation to throw life away. It’s about our need for quiet, and our need for one another. It’s about salvation, and the Cross stands wonderfully at the center of this book through a character I’ll leave for you to discover. It’s about our smallness, and the glory of humility. And it’s about heaven, the utterly-real and wonderfully good home that is being prepared for us.

The Scent of Water is on my shelf of regularly re-read books, and I am so glad I picked it up again now. If you are struggling with the strange sort of quiet that has descended over our daily lives, I’d encourage you to spend some time in Appleshaw with The Scent of Water. I’d love to hear which character warms you most, and what the beautifully crafted story imparts to your heart about the wonder of God’s renewing power.


All quotations from The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. These page references are from a version published by Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1963. A newer printing is readily available through Hendrickson publishers, 2011.
[1]  p. 115
[2] p. 90
[3] p. 237