A return to an old read, The School of Essential Ingredients (2009) by the novelist Erica Bauermeister, in my perception, parallels the transformational nature of the art of cooking with the gift of grace: both require the freshest of ingredients, attention, willingness, action, waiting, savoring. In both, surprise delights, surprise encourages still more experimentation.

Interesting that the novelist sets The School of Essential Ingredients between autumns’ chill and the return of cherry blossoms blooming across the front of Lillian’s restaurant. From the dusk, emerge eight participants who have signed on for her cooking classes. Into her light-filled, savory kitchen, they shuffle, their expressions pinched by varied faces of grief, becoming even more etched after learning of her teaching method: relying upon intuition rather than cookbooks with directions.

As weeks pass, the participants anticipate sitting around her oval worktable, the place where it happens: The emerging sense of connectedness in their concoctions and more importantly, with each other. Laughter, surprise, and exclamations ring out.

Another school of essential ingredients comes to mind at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where for many years I had signed on for directed retreats. Although we were forty-five in number, many of whom returned at the same time each September, again we needed psychic cleansing and longed for the Face of God, our Chef and Teacher, so to speak, to feed us—It was everywhere. Instantly, silence deepened our connectedness, steeped us in compassion, and fired our willingness to follow where we were led.

Critical to the ensuing mishmash of the days and nights were also attention, willingness, waiting, savoring, and action that infused intimate heart-talk with God. The result was a gentle soul-throttling—the tongue of the pounding surf revealing secrets within the now and daring still more ascents. 

However, my annual squeaky-clean washing was short-lived until the following September, but the feedings continue…for all us.