Holy Smokes

March 23, 2015

I’ve always been fascinated by smoke. Whether from a campfire, the censer at mass, or curling from a warm pipe (as in the classic tobacco pipe and not some monstrous, abstract glass leviathan that lurks in the back room of some “head shop”). The slow rise into the air transforms the typical quick mental state into one of meditation and reflection. Campfires have lessened in popularity, because fewer people seem to enjoy the outdoors much less than in generations past, casually tell stories to family members and friends, or, God forbid, communicate outside of texting in the electronic world.

Incense at Mass is used fairly infrequently, but I do have to say I’ve seen the use of it more in the last two years than in years previous. (A good sign, I would say.) Last of all, you rarely see anyone smoke a pipe. It was certainly common place through the 1940’s and 50’s but was on a steady decline until recently.

My dad smokes a pipe, and I think there is where my interest started. I remember spending time in my dad’s study while he watched sports or even played Battleship with me. He was usually puffing on his pipe, and I could always tell a change in his demeanor while he smoked. He seemed to take a slightly more wizened look, and his decisions were certainly not rushed (and neither were his answers to my inane questions).

When life is propelling us forward at such an extreme rate, what could possibly be an allure of something quite simple as a piece of briar with rubber or plastic attached to it?    I think many men are becoming counter cultural in the sense that the propulsion forward is reaching a point of backlash. Push me to make a decision? You will have to wait until I finish my pipe (which could be hours).

I’ve read an anecdote in the past that seems to put this into perspective. Two businessmen are in negotiations over the price of a sale. The man behind the desk receives the other man’s counter offer to his original offer. He tells him that “he must think this proposition over.” He reaches into his desk, grabs his pipe, and begins to load it and light it in silence. After a few minutes the other man cannot bear the silence and relents to the original offer.

This illustrates perfectly the point to which we have come in our society. Certainly there are decisions that must be made quickly, but they are few and far between. Most decisions now fall into the category of instant gratification. This has reduced our capacity to slow down and be deliberate. What does this have to do with smoke? As I sit and contemplate in my garage, the smoke that issues forth from my pipe is exactly the slowing down that I need. This is the state of mind that allows one to concentrate on something of importance. As my smoke rises higher, so do my thoughts and prayers, ever so gently riding the currents of air until they have disappeared in the heavens.

We can debate and argue the effects of smoking a pipe until we’re blue in the face, but that is certainly not the point of these words. The point is that we all should search out that one hobby, place or action that elevates the mind to higher things just as smoke rises to heaven. I have found a lot of wisdom in the act of smoking a pipe. Each time I have finished, I knock the ashes from my pipe and think frequently of the line that we hear during the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as dust you shall return.”

It is not a tone of depression in which I think of these words, but rather is one of comparison with my life. Am I living my life by bringing the fragrance of Christ to those around me, or am I merely stinking up the room with my own presence? Unfortunately I tend to do the latter if I am not careful with my words and actions. Once again this slowing down, drawing deliberate puffs of smoke and allowing myself the simple pleasure of following the streams heavenward certainly produces a quieting effect in my heart and soul. It may sound slightly curmudgeon only to find such satisfaction in something so archaic, but when the electricity goes out at least the glow of my pipe will not.

In the end it should behoove us to find that hobby or contemplative action that raises our “smoke” to heaven whether real or figurative. Work towards a contemplative mindset that pushes you into action when the time arises. Just as the action of smoking a pipe requires attention so that your pipe does not go out we are called to constantly set our soul ablaze with the thoughts of Christ so that it spurs us into action in our daily lives. For if the light in our soul goes out so does the sweet smoke of sacrifice in our hearts.

Ben Ewing is a husband and father of two girls. He works as a Technical Director for a local iron castings company during the day and as Prince Charming from Cinderella or Kristoff from Frozen in the evenings. When he is not wearing feather boas and glittery crowns or getting his hands dirty in a foundry, he can be found roasting his own coffee blends or creating new recipes for home-brewed beer. Though he is a Coloradoan, he currently lives in northern Indiana with his wife, Jeannie Ewing, daughters, and dog (who is also female).

This post originally appeared on Catholic Exchange. It is reprinted with permission.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Anthony M says

    Hi Ben, thank you for another insightful article.

    I know that the point of this article is to use the symbolism of pipe-smoking in order to relate to prudent decision-making and focusing on God, but I think this article walks along a dangerous line.

    As a 22 year old cancer survivor, I find it difficult to digest an article which indulges in the process of smoking. My difficulty is not with the theological implications that you draw from your reflections, but with the air of nonchalance, or even, the romanticising and rejoicing, in this act which destroys your body – a “temple of the Holy Spririt”.

    Perhaps it would be prudent to add a note – particularly for the younger readers – of the health implications of smoking.

    This blog writes a lot of significant content about true masculinity, but I don’t think that harming one’s body and putting oneself at significant risk of a substance use disorder, represents masculinity at all – but rather, anti-masculinity.

    However, the theological contemplations you draw are good and true reflections on a Christian way of living.

    Thank you, Ben.


  2. Marko says

    Like great G.K. Chesterton said, “In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together.” Indeed, they can, and they must. It is ironic that Christians who think all drinking is drunkenness and all smoking is vice are those who think Jesus suffered and died so that we do not have to. It is no surprise that Christians who believe in redemptive suffering have a happy and holy indifference to alcohol and tobacco. As Chesterton said, “Probably the worst way to drink is to drink medicinally. Certainly the safest way to drink is to drink carelessly; that is, without caring much for anything, and especially not caring for the drink.” For it is equally the puritan and the pagan who think too much about drinking and smoking; most likely because they forget Christ’s first public miracle was the turning water into wine, and His perpetual memorial is the turning of wine into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Catholic – whether he is a formal member of the Catholic Church or not – is the kind of Christian who accepts the pint, the pipe and the Cross. For though neither of them are good for the body, they are all good for the soul.

    God bless.

  3. ThomasG says

    Hi, Ben, good post. As a pipe smoker myself, I vigorously concur with the sublime sentiment expressed so well in your post. Indeed, a bowlful of fine tobacco alters the very vibration of existence, slows it down in some indefinable way.

    Carry on, lad!

  4. David Glendinning says

    Wonderful article!
    I especially appreciate the comment that each person should find that activity that brings them to close communion with God and pursue it. The details of what that activity is should be between the person and God.
    To me that aligns perfectly with Scripture’s take on giving… that each should purpose in their own heart the details (of “who” and “how much”).
    I will say that in my case the main activity that brings me close to God is making music — but the occasional bowlful of McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian works, too. 🙂

  5. Bill Donaghy says

    I’ve smoked a pipe for forty nine years now, and I cannot remember a time when as the smoke rose it did not draw in contemplation. In its dissipation one glimpses his mortality, and in its rising his hopeful destination….heaven.

  6. Miss says

    I’m a lady, catechist, and leisure smoker of fine tobacco
    – I relate to this so well – keep on keeping on!

  7. Adam says

    Always’ scrape your pipe with a pipe tool that you can buy from your local Tobacconist. But’ not so much that you damage your pipe. Never’ knock your pipe it could cause the stem to fit loose damaging your pipe. If’ your pipe developers a bitter taste use pipe sweetener also can usually’ be bought from your local Tobacconist. These are suggestions for the beginner.don’t be concerned about wether it’s fashionable or that it seems that Only’a a dedicated few are smokeing pipes.history has a way of repeating its self and even if pipe smokeing isn’t fashionable what’s wrong with being unique. I am 42 yrs old I’ve smoked a pipe since I was 18 yrs old my Father bought me a Sherlock Holmes pipe.I’ve always’ been a fan.The Lord bless you.


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