Do y'all remember when I had the opportunity to test a recipe for a new cookbook that was yet-to-be-released?
Well, that book was released TODAY! If you love food, gathering around the table, or encouraging words in book form, Shauna Niequist's new book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table With Recipes, is one you want to pick up.
I was given the incredible opportunity to receive an advanced reader copy to review and holy cow. I've always known Shauna and I were soul sisters, but these words in this book about this topic...blew me away. What I love most about Shauna is that she writes about things that I know to be true deep down in my bones and she puts them out there for me to read and then I know I'm not alone. The world gets a little smaller and a little less scary. Kinda like when you gather around the table.
Ah...the table. I grew up in a home where the table was the center of family life. As an Air Force family, my parents knew how important it was to provide a constant when everything else in our lives was changing every 3 years. The table was that constant. It was where we gathered at the end of hectic days to reconnect, to learn a little more about each other, and to remind one another that whatever else happened that day, you would encounter love and life-giving nourishment for body and soul there. That has carried our family through so many changes and life-moments, I wouldn't even know where to begin. To this day, with my sister and I both grown and living our own lives, when we gather at my parents table we find that same love and life. As Little Sister and I have expanded our lives, the table has expanded as well to include those we bring with us to it. That's always been the case at my parent's table...it was never closed to anyone needing to encounter love and life and nourishment.
I suppose it should come as no surprise then that as I've grown into adulthood and begun to establish my own home that the table would be the center of that home. My life's ministry is to create an environment in which intimacy can flourish wherever I am and, for me, that starts in my home...at my table. It is where I have encountered Jesus most frequently in the last several years...more so than in any church service. I say that because He shows up in the people sitting around the table - in their words, in their ideas, their hopes, and their fears. He speaks truth to me through these people and when I hear their stories, the pain and the joy of their lives, it is quite literally Jesus with skin on sitting there, calling me into real life. He calls me out of my own comfortable world and into their reality and I see the Kingdom begin to come to earth as it is in heaven. The beauty and diversity of it is breath-taking. Jesus Himself sits at my table, in the form of the person He sent me, and we all break bread together and drink wine and REMEMBER.
Shauna gets all of this. Like, GETS IT, gets it. And she wrote it all down. In a book. And then I got to read it. As I did so, I shouted "YES!" and "THIS!" and underlined furiously and read aloud passages to Mr. Ford who would, infuriatingly, reply, "Yes, I know. You say that all the time". And I would say, "I KNOW! BUT SHE SAID IT TOO SO THAT MEANS I'M NOT CRAZY!"
"What's becoming clearer and clearer to me is the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table...It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories" (p. 13).
Um. Yeah, Hi! SHE GETS IT! I mean, I could keep going, quoting her, but really you ought to just grab the book for yourself and read these truths. You won't regret it.
When I was offered the chance to read this advanced copy, I was provided several ideas for ways to engage the book. Since there are recipes throughout, following nearly every essay, they suggested hosting a dinner party and cooking through one of the menus provided at the end of the book. I LOVE a good dinner party, so I thought that was what I wanted to do...invite several people over and make it a picture perfect evening. But as it often does, life got busy. I read the book (okay, devoured it) and loved every word, but things got crazy and I couldn't find a time that would allow me to create the perfect evening I was envisioning.
I did end up making a pan of Annette's Enchiladas for a couple in our small group that was dealing with some tough family stuff so they wouldn't have to worry about where dinner was coming from. Mr. Ford and I delivered the enchiladas and sat with them for awhile, and we looked into their faces and listened to their story.
We had some other friends over and I did end up making the suggested "Fiesta" menu, mostly because the suggested dessert was a Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee with Vanilla Ice Cream, and I know how much my friend loves salted dark chocolate. That night was so sweet...laughter and conversation and planning with two people that have quickly become confidantes and partners in ministry in countless ways. That time around the table came at the end of a particularly difficult day and brought a great deal of healing to my weary heart and soul.
I used some of Shauna's tips on quick weeknight cooking and was able to whip up something delightful without too much effort to nourish Mr. Ford and myself after a long day of work for us both.
I made the White Chicken Chili to feed a crowd and the lingering that happened at the end of the night saw new friendships forged.
I made the Mini Mac and Cheese for Ladies Night Out with the women's ministry from our church. I had a total off night in the kitchen that night, wherein I mis-calculated my proportions for doubling the recipe and then dumped half the macaroni all over the floor (Tootles was quite pleased with that particular mishap). Then when I plated them on the serving platter and cut them into quarters to try to make them stretch, I knew that Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshi would have told me to pack my knives and go on account of the AWFUL presentation (total user error, BTW).
Basically, I've been cooking my way through the book for the last couple of weeks. Every recipe has been, not surprisingly, unbelievably tasty and pretty simple as well. But the most important thing I've learned in all of these adventures in the kitchen, is in large part due to one of Shauna's refrains throughout the book, that it's not a performance and it isn't about perfection. It's about nourishing the people I'm feeding, body and soul. It's about letting go of the need to be Martha Stewart and instead embracing the opportunity to create something with my hands and present it to the people I love as an invitation to holy ground. There we will usher one another into the Kingdom of God simply by sharing the bread and the wine. This is what Shauna says of bread and wine:
"I believe the bread and wine is for all of us, for every person, an invitation to believe, a hand extended from divine to human. I believe it's to be torn and handled, gulped. I believe that we can practice the sacrament of Communion anywhere at all, that a forest clearing can become a church and that any one of us a preist as we bless the bread and wine. And I believe that Jesus asked for us to remember him during the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine every time, every meal, every day - no matter where we are, who we are, what we've done" (p. 252)
My heart soars reading those words and my soul settles itself down. I ache to remember Jesus truthfully and in a manner that is holy. When I break bread and drink wine with those I love, I find that I cannot be more truthful or holy than that.
In the final essay of the book, "Come to the Table", Shauna writes:
"...if you can satiate a person's hunger, you can get a glimpse of their heart....I want you to invest yourself wholly and deeply in friendship, God's greatest evidence of himself here on earth. More than anything, I want you to come to the table. In all sorts of ways, both literally and metaphorically, come to the table" (p 258).
God has called each of us, by name, to His table. Let us now call Him, let us now call others, to our tables and there remember that He is good and He is faithful and that we all have stories to tell.
I am grateful that Shauna has written so beautifully to remind us of these truths we already know. If even the tiniest portion of this resonates for you in any way, get your hands on this book. Just reading her words will nourish you.