A few months back, during California’s infamous “ski week”, I was glued to my bed. Matt & I were gripped with a horrendous illness that kept us bed-ridden, energy-zapped, for over 10 days. It was a doozy. Two of the most glorious packages arrived, though. One was delivered by FedEx and the other, to my inbox. A “hard copy” and a “digital” copy of Shauna Niequist’s newest book, “Bread and Wine“. I first read Shauna’s second book, “Bittersweet“, two years ago when it caught my eye at the Library and quickly became a devotee to her writing and message. Eventually, it came time for Shauna to share some writing from her new book to come out in Spring of 2013. She began looking for recipe testers and later, folks to read and review advanced copies of the book. I jumped on both opportunities and have felt such blessing from the chance to be a small, teeny part of the process—watching alongside, anticipating the arrival of the finished product, a published book. It’s almost like waiting for a friend to have a baby. You know the induction date/due date/publication date, but you watch as announcements come out, glimpses via ultrasound or in this case, Shauna’s blog and instagram feed and think about holding that finished product—baby or book—in your hands.
It is hard to “find time” to read, let alone cook & bake these days. Yet, both are endeavors which fill me with great pleasure and joy. There is something so magical about tangible chances to create finished products. Parenting, teaching and ministry are ongoing. One never really “finishes”. Cooking, food, life around the table, family & friendship are all topics that ignite me. So when the final subtitle was determined for Bread and Wine, I realized why my anticipation for this book was so great. Shauna titled it Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table. As she began writing the book, she realized that it was a book that included recipes, yes. But more importantly, it became vignettes about love, intimacy, shame, isolation, rest, nourishment and at times, fear.
We often can think of food, recipes, meals and eating as a chore and a to-do to be checked off our list. On the other extreme, we can assume that we need a spread worthy of Martha Stewart or Williams & Sonoma to actually enjoy a meal with friends and extend an invitation. Bread & Wine focuses on the joy, community and growth that can come from practicing authenticity and hospitality around the table. The table provides a space to let go of our need for perfection and show up as we are. Shauna sums this up so eloquently in the last chapter of the book, “Come to the Table”:
“Most of the time, I eat like someone’s about to steal my plate, like I can’t be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I’m coming to see that the table is about food, and it’s also about time. It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.
We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. Come to the table.”
I have made many recipes from the book already—-Blueberry Crisp, Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies, Green Well Salad, Mango Chicken Curry, Breakfast Cookies, Annette’s Enchiladas, Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee, Gaia Cookies & Sullivan Street Bread. I can tell you about the amazing flavors and sighs of yumminess I blabbered on and on about as I dug in. I could describe the small scraps of toffee leftover, despite my incorrect cooking attempt. Or the glorious first bite of Gaia Cookie I bit into while sick with fever. I SHOULD have been sleeping while Drew was napping and Alex was absorbed in LEGO building, but nope…that recipe was literally calling me.
But more than all of those bites of goodness, meals shared over the table and with the company of others are what hold the most true. I am a perfectionist and I HATE feeling “undone”. I want my house picked up, dishes and laundry done, kids behaving and quiet (better yet napping or sleeping!) when friends and family show up. And then I am reminded of the true gift of communion over the table. Not about perfection but being present as Shauna reiterated:
“Hospitality is about love, not about performance. Above all else, people want to feel welcomed by someone who wants them in their home. No matter how unimpressive the food is or how messy the house is, if you greet your guests at the door with happiness and warmth, they’ll feel glad they came.”
In preparation for this book review, I had the gift of getting to hear Shauna speak last Friday. I was a giddy groupie, unashamed of my geeky, cult following mentality. The chance to spend some time with friends, though, over drinks after the event, was as much as a highlight as hearing & meeting Shauna again (first time here). It felt like a small victory to raise our glasses that night. It was a “late night crowd” at the restaurant, almost 10pm. We were surrounded by Silicon Valley folks that in many ways seemed to lead a much more glamorous and exciting life. But it wasn’t really about that. It was about practicing presence and showing up with and for one another.
Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God. Shauna regularly blogs at http://www.shaunaniequist.com/.