I bought Shauna Niequist’s second book, Bittersweet, during a closeout sale at Border’s (I still miss you, Border’s). I didn’t know much about it, but it could not have come at a better time in my life. She has a way of stringing together words so eloquently. I can tell when I am reading something I really enjoy because it inspires me to share my own words. Shauna doesn’t just inspire me to write more, but she inspires me to live more fully. I quickly devoured her first book, Cold Tangerines soon after.
I was excited when I heard about the release of her newest book, Bread and Wine. My theology is formed by the Eucharist, its meal and meaning, so the title alone got me excited. Then I heard there would be stories and recipes, and honestly, I was a little less thrilled. My culinary skills consist of failed attempts and some time spent as a cook in a nursing home. (Which I absolutely loved, but you can’t be considered much of a chef when you make a meal only to blend the whole thing together so it can be consumed by people who cannot eat solid foods.) I love to cook and try new recipes, but I do not consider myself a fantastic cook—most of my recipes usually end in a disaster. Case in point: I once tried to make Whoopie Pies and ended up with one giant cookie sheet-size cookie. Needless to say, it didn’t really work. But, after reading her book (and even trying a few recipes), let me tell you: don’t be put off by the recipes. They are doable. And tasty.
If you believe community is built around the table, you must read her book. It is as simple as that. If you want to be inspired to love deeply, read this book. If you want to think about food more intentionally, read this book. If you want to be inspired to live more deliberately, read this book. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Read this book.
When I am at the grocery store, sometimes I am just thinking about what other people would like—how I could give them something. I want to gather foods (mostly cookies and, let’s be honest, unhealthy things) and put them in a basket, include a card to let them know I care. When I read Shauna’s words, I want to have dinner parties and invite everyone over because she makes my heart warm and overflowing with gratitude for the people I have in my life. I want to have a dining room table that seats at least fourteen.
I believe strongly our words matter and she is using her words to tell a grand story. It is not just a story of everyday moments, it is—like it says in the subtitle—a love letter to life around the table. That is what you are reading, a love letter written by someone who has come to discover there is so much about life to love. But she doesn’t gloss over the difficult topics either, which I think is what makes it so real.
My theology and ministry is influenced greatly by the Eucharist, by bread and wine (only I’m Nazarene, so my wine is really just juice). It is this idea that we must become like Christ, like the elements, broken and poured out for the people around us. We must serve and live life together. We must cry together and celebrate together. It is like she writes:
“I want all of the holiness of the Eucharist to spill out beyond the church walls, out of the hands of priests and into the regular streets and sidewalks, into the hands of regular, grubby people like you and me, onto our tables, in our kitchens and dining rooms and backyards.”
Yes. That. All of that.
Actually, this is really a “Yes, that” kind of book. You find yourself knowing you’ve thought these thoughts and she’s expressing your thoughts in a way you haven’t. Obviously, her memories are not your memories, but she makes you think of your own experiences. She makes you think of the meals you’ve eaten and the tables you’ve broken bread around.
I spent the past summer in London volunteering in a church. I was part of a team of people, and near the end of our time, we were hosting an evening worship service. I wanted to serve communion. In my mind, I felt like it would be this profound experience where people would taste grace like never before.
Someone once said something about the best-laid plans, right? Well, I don’t know what it was, but the prep for this night was not really going like I thought it would. I guess we all learned one of the most valuable lessons in event planning: do not plan an event at the same time the Olympic torch is coming through your borough. (I guess maybe it isn’t really a universal lesson.) We didn’t really have anything to use to hold the elements, so we ended up using a random plate and a plastic wine glass we got from the 99p store (the equivalent of our dollar stores). It was not fancy, but in a way, it was still beautiful.
I feel like that is the key to inviting people over for meals. It isn’t so much about what you serve, but who you serve. You are saying, “You are welcome in my life—no matter how messy or clean.” The beauty is sometimes found in the imperfections. You simply become open. Openness lets the most grace in. That’s hospitality.
Shauna writes about hospitality so beautifully:
“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment. Part of that, then, is honoring the way God made our bodies, and feeding them in ways they need to be fed.”
She writes a lot about family, her memories and stories. She wrote about the importance of experiencing different cultures:
“I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful plan, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.”
She writes about writing:
“When you’re writing, the moment you sit down at the keyboard isn’t the magic moment; the magic moments are when you decide to see and hear and remember and taste everything in the whole world, choosing to believe that art and creativity are all around you, unfolding and beckoning you.”
She writes about tears (which, as a crier, speaks to me):
“But I have also long held the belief that one’s tears are a guide, that when something makes you cry, it means something. If we pay attention to our tears, they’ll show us something about ourselves. Against my preferences, watching people cross marathon finish lines makes me cry. Crazy, deep, ugly cry. Specifically, watching average-looking people cross marathon finish lines makes me cry. Professionals who finish in two hours are amazing, but it doesn’t move me the same way.”
She writes about love:
“Love isn’t something you prove or earn, but something you receive or allow, like a balm, like a benediction, even at your very worst.”
Read this book. Open your house, your life. Gather around the table. Life is filled with experiences that will make you want to write a love letter, so go and experience all you can.
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”