Sitting on the couch doing nothing is my Sunday ritual. After church, after cooking lunch and after the dishes, I turn three circles around the velvet cushions of my sofa and curl up for some dream time. I don’t necessarily nap, but I put my mind in a snoozy mode, to think, to imagine and to follow rabbit trails of new ideas. Sundays are sacred like that.
One of my standard Sunday meditations is how to improve myself as a food writer, and what it means to be at the top of one’s game professionally. Who do I want to see when I look in the mirror? I considered superlatives and the path towards dominating one’s craft – to be a god among my peers. My mind wandered to the ancient Greek gods and the examples they set in Western literature. I believe legends, heroes, parables and myths deliver divine communication of human ideals. If I was going to model my career after the example of a Greek god, which one would I be? I pulled out my laptop and began to surf.
Zeus was the god of all gods, but straight up, his online profile was a turn off. Also known as “The Lord of Justice,” Zeus had his garden variety nice guy qualities of being a carefree spirit and loving a good laugh. But he was unpredictable, quick to anger, married his sister and spawned an array of demi-gods outside his marriage. One article said his two servants were named Force and Violence. So, in my search for a Greek god as a legendary role model for professional improvement, Zeus was not a match.
As the goddess of the hunt, archery, forests, wild animals and the moon, Artemis was a beautiful example of a strong, poetic female. Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth and (ironically) virginity. Her preference was to skulk in forests with her posse of nymphs and plan murderous hits on the other gods that judged her lifestyle choices. Artemis seemed to have a lot of unresolved personal baggage, so I kept surfing.
Reading though Greek mythology online, most of the gods and goddesses seemed to have their hang-ups or fatal flaws, but then I stumbled on the story of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and home.
Keeping the hearth fire lit in ancient times was a round-the-clock necessity, and Hestia blessed your home with an eternal flame. She oversaw the preparation of all cooking and sacrificial feasts. Hestia existed in every household, as opposed to a formally worshipped goddess in a temple.
Unlike Zeus with his goon squad of Force and Violence, Hestia’s power emanated from her beneficence. There were few priests dedicated to Hestia, but she had a strong cult-like following. As a food blogger and Instagrammer, isn’t a cult-like following my goal? Aside from her self-imposed eternal virginity, (What is up with that?) the nature of this goddess resonated with me. I liked her style.
Along with Hestia’s presence came the philosophy of xenia, or the divine friendship that Greeks offered strangers. Ancient households were obligated to offer shelter, food and comfort to travelers or those in need. The theme of xenia was strong in all of the Greek myths, so much so that the violation of xenia prompted both tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Not offering hospitality to strangers evoked the wrath of good ol’ Mr. Lord of Justice, aka Zeus.
However, the ancient Greeks didn’t corner the market on xenia. The Japanese have long honored the concept of omotenashi, a form of hospitality that implies a pureness of heart. Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, participates in the belief that hospitality is one of the five sacrifices that must be performed daily in a household. The Maori recognize the practice of manaakitanga which is the important traditional value of hospitality. Across the globe, hospitality has been considered a divine obligation since the beginning of human culture.
Like most food enthusiasts, I enjoy light reading about better ways to make empanada crust or how to improve my barbecue skills. I love creating recipes, photographing food, and chatting with other chefs and cooks online. From my velvet couch cushions at our home on the US/Mexico border, I write about Texas country recipes, foods and traditions, which readers seem to enjoy. But will my writing be relevant 10 years from now?
Currently, food is not the main story in my community. The Rio Grande Valley is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, as we are located where migrants cross (or are denied crossing) into the United States. I have written a few non-food articles about our local border life, and readers responded with enthusiasm. Border stories were a departure from my regular food writing. Could I write about food and our immigration crisis in the U.S. simultaneously?
As I sat there on the couch, I remembered a sermon that lodged in my memory. “Where is the hospitality?” boomed from the rafters of the church, as my priest stamped his foot. He was addressing the lack of compassion migrant families faced in our nation, and at the time, I didn’t fully connect with his outrage. But during my sacred Sunday couch meditation, all the pieces came together, and I figured out why a food writer needed to write about the border crisis in her community.
Because Hestia would.
The culture of xenia is spiritual, not political. Hestia was not a political god like the all powerful Zeus, but she invested herself in the spiritual and physical well-being of Greek society. Recognizing those in our midst that simply need a place to rest, or a bowl of soup is a spiritual obligation as old as the mythology of our human culture. Hestia was the role model I was looking for.
As I sit here, writing these thoughts from the comfort of my couch, I am thinking about the holiday posadas that my friends are planning: the beautiful meals, the dazzling decorations, and the traditional retelling of the story of a family in a strange land, looking for shelter a long time ago. Food, xenia, the border, and migrants in my community are presenting themselves to me as a story I can write, tell and share.
And so, I shall.
I will continue to raise funds for the soup kitchen for Sister Norma, because making sure that strangers in my community have something to eat is what I should do. Please consider a contribution to the soup kitchen campaign this holiday season.
Or better still, look to your own community, and seek out the strangers that need your help.
Be Hestia. Practice xenia. And feast in the richness of holiday spirit at your family table.