I read Shauna Niequist’s new book in the bathtub. Usually after a long day of writing and tending kids, doing carpool and helping with homework. Shauna’s book, Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table soothed me. It made my mouth water. Most of all, it inspired me to have people over more often and sit around the table talking and sharing life. I hope you enjoy Shauna’s words as much as I do. xo, EE.
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I’m a food person, a table person. I’m also a writer and speaker and for ten years I worked in churches, but more than almost anything else, I’m a table person. I didn’t always admit it because it seemed sort of silly, or less important than, say, ministry or meetings or missions.
Unless it is your mission. Unless it is your ministry. Unless you believe that the most meaningful way to meet about any topic is around a table filled with food.
It’s no accident that when a loved one dies, the family is deluged with food. The impulse to feed is innate. Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don’t know what to say, when there are no words to say. And food is what we offer in celebration — at weddings, at anniversaries, at happy events of every kind. It’s the thing that connects us, that bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and, on a practical level, our ability to live and breathe each day. Food matters.
At the very beginning, and all through the Bible, all through the stories about God and His people, there are stories about food, about all of life changing with the bite of an apple, about trading an inheritance for a bowl of stew, about waking up to find the land littered with bread, God’s way of caring for his people; about a wedding where water turned to wine, Jesus’ first miracle; about the very first Last Supper, the humble bread and wine becoming, for all time, indelibly linked to the very body of Christ, the center point for thousands of years of tradition and belief. It matters.
It mattered then, and it matters now, possibly even more so, because it’s a way of reclaiming some of the things we may have lost along the way.
Both the church and modern life, together and separately, have wandered away from the table. The church has preferred to live in the mind and the heart and the soul, and almost not at all in fingers and mouths and senses. And modern life has pushed us into faux food and fast food and highly engineered food products cased in sterile packages that we eat in the car or on the subway — as though we’re astronauts, as though we can’t be bothered with a meal.
Life at the table is life at its best to me, and the spiritual significance of what and how we eat, and with whom and where, is new and profound to me every day. I believe God is here among us, present and working. I believe all of life is shot through with God’s presence, and that part of the gift of walking with Him is seeing His fingerprints in all sorts of unexpected ways.
What makes me feel alive and connected to God’s voice and spirit in this world is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. I believe it’s the way I was made, and I believe it matters. For many years, I didn’t let it matter, for a whole constellation of reasons, but part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love.
In the words of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, it’s about “letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
My friends and I didn’t learn to cook, necessarily. In an effort to widen our options, to set us free to be whatever we wanted to be, many of our mothers shooed us out of the kitchen — that place of lingering oppression and captivity for many of them. They encouraged us to study and travel and participate in sports and the arts, the things women didn’t get to do when they were young. They shooed us out as an act of love, regardless of the fact that some of us really wanted to be there. So then, largely, young women and men moved out of their parents’ homes and didn’t know how to cook at all, and both genders felt conflicted about it, for a host of reasons. So we got takeout and thought about other things.
But many of us, men and women alike, at a certain point, are wandering back to the kitchen and fumbling and learning and trying to feed ourselves and the people we love, because we sense that it’s important and that we may have missed something fundamental along the way.
Especially for those of us who make our livings largely in front of computer screens, there’s something extraordinary about getting up from the keyboard and using our hands for something besides typing — for chopping and dicing and coaxing scents and flavors from the raw materials in front of us.
There’s something entirely satisfying in a modern, increasingly virtual world about something so elemental — heat, knife, sizzle. And there’s something entirely satisfying about faces, stories, listening, time to hear it all, taste it all, be together in the midst of it all. Everything in my life, it seems, is leading me back to the table.
[To win a copy of Shauna's book, Bread & Wine, please leave a comment. One comment per person. THREE winners will be chosen. Giveaway closes Friday, April 19th at 12pm PST]