When I tell people that I am a food writer, they always ask me what I like to cook. I want to ask them if they would ask a film critic to tell them about the movie they are shooting at the moment, but instead I just smile and say, “Scrambled eggs.” That is only part of the truth, but I don’t usually tell them that I started writing about food before I started cooking, creating standards that I could never meet. I do not tell them that fear of failure often means that I eat pre-made guacamole or cheese and crackers for dinner. I worry that this will take away my credibility, even though I know that not everyone who writes about food claims to be good at preparing it.
When I stitch my little felt ornaments, my fingers sometimes get sore. I take breaks and rub them, looking out the window and listening to the sermon that is streaming. “It is perhaps through the work of kind welcome and laden table and warm bed,” the pastor says, “that the church labors most effectively to bear witness to the reality of the kingdom of God and the welcome that we receive in God in Christ.” He is preaching on the book of Ruth. Ruth! I studied it so many times in college, together with girlfriends all waiting for men, for boyfriends, for husbands, trying to glean some insight from this woman who did strange things indeed to secure her man. That is not the point of the book, the preacher says. I breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, he gleans kindness, hope, hospitality from the passages. The kind of hospitality that hems in, honors, and protects everything about the person being welcomed into our lives.
It is the first morning of vacation in a friend’s condo. I am looking down on the condo’s private beach from my balcony. From way up here, everyone is small, no one too fat, too sexy, too weak, too old, or too young. They are all just specks of human beings swallowed by a vast dance of blurry sandbars beneath an undulating surf. I arrived last night in the dark and went to sleep. This morning, I try to unkink from regular life stresses. I keep telling myself it’s okay if my thoughts walk away from these relentless concerns. The ocean, meanwhile, forgets with ease, content with humming a tune of waves that massage the air like an oscillating fan, a white noise sound machine rising and falling, over and over, an unending breath-like soundtrack.
A labyrinth is not like a maze, whose purpose is to thwart the walker’s cunning, lose her in a splatter of dead ends, spin him back to the beginning before earning a finish. A labyrinth is a disappointment for a person hoping for such a puzzle. No challenge, no tense thrill. Just one foot in front of the other like any other day. One path takes you to the labyrinth’s center and the same path takes you back out again, exiting exactly where you entered. No matter the paths we walk left to our own devices, for the next six hours there would be no doubt about the way our footsteps were to be set.
Perhaps like these women and the little girl, and maybe like others who feed people as part of a parenting vocation or faith community, I see the garden through the lens of my own faith and call to mothering and being mothered, the garden as a connection to nourishment and solace.
And to redemption. A safe haven where I might receive life and pass it on, or get it back from the edge of death.