“Please pilgrim, take your ease around our table. The sea is hard, and I know that your home country is harder, more evil still than the untrustworthy sea. It is truly a wonder that you have come upon our shores. It is a joy for us to share with you from the good things that our Sovereign has given. Isn’t that right family?”
“Oh yes, Papa!” his young daughter cheerfully sang in agreement.
“Yes sir,” agreed his son, a boy visibly on the verge of manhood.
“Indeed dear,” said his wife, with an infant daughter embraced lovingly in her arms. “It truly is our blessing to share with you the gracious provision of our blessed Sovereign.”
Valfardare the pilgrim humbly followed the family to the table. The lone survivor of those with whom he had journeyed from his home across the sea, and still weak, he was grateful to have been found so quickly by a kind family.
It was the patriarch’s wife who had first seen him sitting on the shore in the distance; and running to search her husband, told him about the stranger. When Valfardare saw the patriarch’s approach he could see by his stature and his walk that the man would be difficult to overcome if proved hostile. Yet this large, strong man had shown him grace. To be sure, in his present, weakened state on the shore, Valfardare seemed the farthest thing away from a threat, but this was not the reason for the patriarch's kindness. He had simply said that as a servant of the Sovereign, he must show hospitality to strangers, and invited Valfardare to his homestead for a meal.
Having washed their hands, and after giving Valfardare a fresh set of his own clothes, the patriarch led the family to the table, with his place at its head. He gestured for them to hold hands together around the table before sitting down. Valfardare watched as they closed their eyes and the patriarch lifted his head.
“Oh, merciful and gracious Sovereign, slow to anger and abounding in love, we are here together, thankful for Your provision. As You give life to our land, so also You give us life. As the land receives its life from You, so also we trust You for our life. The land’s sweetness is but Your goodness, and as we enjoy it, may we direct our joy to Your boundless goodness. You have blessed us this evening with a stranger. May we be pleasing to You as we welcome him into our house from the hardness of the sea, just as You have welcomed us into Your own domain. Amen.”
“Amen!” the family chimed together.
The modest but ample provisions were brought out from where they were prepared and spread across the table. Before eating, a plate, filled with the choicest of food from the table, was emptied into a box filled with soil. Then a glass more elaborate and finely crafted than those set on the table was also filled and poured out over the soil in the box.
Valfardare must have looked visibly curious about this, as the patriarch began to answer his unasked question. “It is as I prayed before, friend. Our Sovereign is the source of all our good. It is His goodness that treats us and provides for us far better than we deserve, so our enjoyment and pleasure at this table must lead us to an enjoyment of true goodness; His boundless goodness. This custom helps us remember that we are but worms eating the delicacies of a merciful master by grace, and so it helps us not to drink too deeply of temporary joy.”
“Forgive me for asking, but how exactly would you know if you had done this?” Valfardare asked.
“In truth, one rarely ever knows when he has done so, and almost certainly not as he is doing so. My friend, the wickedness of the soul is both seditious and deceptive; we do not really know the depths of evil hiding in the dark recesses of our heart, attaching itself to temporary good and delight. It is only the goodness of the Sovereign that has drawn us out of our evil. This is why we also pray as we leave the table.”
"And how does the Sovereign provide for you here? The people from my land work the ground themselves with their own hands and their own tools," inquired Valfardare.
"Indeed, as we do here. But tell me friend, where do men get there vigor? Whence comes the invisible nourishment that fills their lungs and strengthens their backs for the burden? Why are some men able to the task while others lack the strength, though not lacking the lungs and the arms? Our vigor, our life, our strength are all provisions of the Sovereign's mercy. We are but sailors in a boat who have hung high our sails waiting for the breath of the Sovereign to take us where He will by His power, adrift but for His mercy. True, we choose our work and our labour, but even this would be nothing if not for the assent and power of the Sovereign. Our oracle tells us that He provides us both the power to will and to work for His good pleasure."
Valfardare nodded politely. He was a guest, and though he did not really understand, he did not want to offend his hosts. For the moment, he was completely dependent on their kindness. In any case, where else would Valfardare go? He was still too weak to undergo a long journey alone and had no real knowledge of this land within which he now found himself. For all he knew they could still be miles away from their closest neighbours.
After they had eaten and drank their fill at the table, the patriarch motioned for everyone to stand and again to hold hands. The family closed their eyes and the patriarch lifted his head to pray.
“Oh, blessed Sovereign, the wise, the just, the destroyer of all things wicked, vengeance belongs to You. We confess to You that at this table we have not delighted in You as we ought to have done, that we have not shared our joy in You as we ought to have done, that we have neglected our enjoyment of You as the deepest of all our goods. We appeal to the mercy of your Arbiter, sent to us of Your goodness, to forgive us our infinite wrong by which we have offended Your infinite glory in having drunk too deeply from temporary joy. Look upon us with Your grace, and let us leave this table alive by Your mercy.”
“Amen!” the family happily chimed.
Valfardare was being to feel very odd about this devotion to the Sovereign.