Hi! My name is Sara, with no “h.”
I’m starting with my name because it is a foundational piece of my identity, and identity is much of what this book is about. When I think about names, I think about the scene in the film adaptation of The Crucible where Daniel Day Lewis’s character exclaims in answer to a question about why his name is so important: ” BECAUSE IT IS MY NAME!”
My name makes me who I am, and sets me apart from who I might have been. It is identity and belonging, as well as mystery and longing. I don’t know if I had a name in the beginning. My foster name was Gina, my forever name was going to be Mary Elizabeth – Mary Beth – but my parents knew we would be heading to the mission field in Brazil soon. Mary, translated in Portuguese to Maria, is such a common name in Brazil. So, they named me Sara. Sara Elizabeth Robb.
I began praying for my birth mom in high school, as a way to connect with her, and with a birth story that I know very little about. For want of something to call her, I named her in my mind. Her name, to me, is Maria.
When I was six years old, and we had been living in Brazil for most of my life, I made a friend, whose name was Manuela. Raging with indignation and despairing that I had been named Sara instead of Manuela, in the commanding way a six year old has usually embodied by that age; I demanded to be called Manuela forever from then on, and began responding only to “Manuela.”
This lasted for a week, then my parents sat me down and explained to me that my name was Sara, not Manuela, and told me why. Sarah, from the stories in the Bible, was the wife of Abraham and a woman of faith. The name Sara means “princess,” and Elizabeth means “dedicated to God.” Fine. I guess I could be a princess dedicated to God instead of Manuela.
Thankfully, I’m not the kind of princess that Sarah was. I would never knowingly, willingly mistreat or manipulate someone into serving my best interests. I think about my namesake and how much I don’t want to be like her, and in the process find that I am very much like her.
Sometimes I do laugh at God, incredulous, at the notion that I have something to offer the world. Sometimes, I think my plans are well-thought out enough to execute on my own instead of listening to the rhythms of Spirit and the still small voice of God. In the process of distancing myself from the racist, entitled elements of Sarah, I find myself faced with my own racist, entitled elements.
In learning from her, evening leaning into her, our, humanity, I grapple with my own complicity in oppression, and I learn the art of hospitality in her baking of fresh bread for the three strangers. I think back to Sunday School flannel boards bearing pictures of the strangers, the curds and milk and the prized meat that Abraham offered the three strangers, all centered in the middle of them.
In my illustrated children’s bible, the food looks so yummy that it’s easy to miss that though Sarah has baked the bread and brought it to Abraham and the three strangers, she is excluded from the meal. The woman who would become the mother of nations, who brought forth bread from her hands to share with these strangers, wasn’t invited to sit and enjoy, to dream about and to embody that motherhood of life, and of this loaf of bread.
My exploration of food, identity, belonging, and the spiritual intersections of each is for Sarah. Sarah, who carried a child in her old age and lived to tell the tale. Sarah, who was used as a pawn when Abraham’s life was in danger in Egypt. Sarah, who wanted so badly to grow her family that she, in jealousy, mistreated her handmaiden and made her a pawn in Sarah’s own manipulation of her husband and her God. Sarah, who listened from “her place” in the tent.
It’s also for me, and others like me who want to belong in the places we’re often told we don’t belong.
Through the study of food and its theological implications for faith, activism, and creation care, I hope to play a part in redeeming the parts of Sarah’s story that revolve around exclusion, like her barbaric treatment of Hagar and Sarah’s own exclusion from a meal of meat, cheese, and bread; to create a practice of cooking, eating, living, and breathing that is one with the rhythms of Spirit, and ready to listen out for the still small voice of God; a life that includes and in so doing, becomes itself, a delicious offering of welcoming bread for a world that loves to exclude. I love to bake fresh bread.
When I bake, I am Sara. I am Sarah, Mary Beth, Maria, and Manuela all in the kitchen together learning what it means to welcome and to belong; to love and to be loved; to pray and to eat; to fellowship with humanity in all its humanness, and to weep with humanity for all its brokenness. Bread baking grounds me, humbles me, invites me to imagine.