I received this book as a Christmas gift from a dear friend. She had mentioned that when she read the book she thought of me. The title and this comment intrigued me. I wanted to lock myself in a room with a glass of Chianti and read it immediately. But since I had some unfinished books that I wanted to complete before beginning another one, I was able to wait until the new year.
I am in love with Shauna Niequist! This gal is cut from my same fabric! (Except that she is a skilled writer.) I am certain we would be close friends if we ever had the chance to meet. She GETS me!
Once I started reading, I had a hard time setting this book down. And yet I wanted to savor each chapter as it was filled with such wonderful stories and, more often than not, delicious sounding recipes, so I forced myself not to rush through and read the whole book at once.
The similarities between us are remarkable: she loves to cook but does not consider herself a good baker, she has run a marathon, she likes to have friends over, she travels, she “is a bread person” as well as a “wine person.” I know there are more that are escaping me at the moment. I should have kept a log as I was going through the book!
Of course there are differences as well: she’s married to a musician, her father is a pastor, she lives up north where she battles cold temperatures, she has struggled with infertility. And yet even the differences offer me a view of life from a different peak, a familiar yet new vantage point, where the landscape is the same and yet altered.
The book is a “collection of essays about family, friendships, and the meals that bring us together.” It’s a book about “food and family and faith.” Can you see now why it’s my kind of book?
I read parts of the book aloud to my husband, Michael, as we were driving to and from Orlando for the Disney Marathon weekend. After reading and discussing several of her essays, we decided that we wanted to be more intentional this year about gathering friends together and living in community with them around the table. What is becoming clearer and clearer to Shauna really resonated with me as well, when she says, “…that 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. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I’ve made with my ownhands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.” (p. 13) Isn’t that beautiful? I feel these same things!
I am Italian. We eat meals slow, lingering around the table as we clean our plates, sip our wines, finish our conversation. Growing up, Sunday dinners were sacred. I was free to do what I pleased with friends on Saturday, but Sundays were family days and I was expected to be present. I could invite a friend, and later a boyfriend, to join us, but it was understood that I would participate in the weekly ritual. Sometimes we would go for picnics on the beach in Taormina where the meal consisted of fresh bread, a rotisserie chicken with roasted potatoes, cheese and salami. Later we’d stop for a gelato or a granita for dessert. Or we might drive “up the mountain,” (Etna, a live volcano) and cook sausages on a grill in the pine forest, go for hikes, nap in a hammock strung up in the trees, throw the frisbee around. Later we would stop off at a bar for a pastry and an espresso for the adults. But mostly we would gather at the dining room table or in the glassed-in balcony on a sunny winter’s day to soak up the warmth from the sun, the company and the food and eat mom’s pasta, or chicken, or beef stew.
These days we live in Florida. And when my parents are in town for the winter, we still gather at their house after church, my brother and his growing family and me with my shrinking one and we continue the tradition of eating mom’s delicious home cooked meals, sometimes with friends, sometimes with just immediate family. My kids are also allowed to invite friends, and girlfriends, but they know that this is what we do on Sundays. They’ve learned to expect it, and now as they are getting older, to cherish it as something special that is part of the fabric of our family. It’s what we do; it’s who we are. Perhaps that is the main reason that I enjoyed this book so much. It’s something that we are already doing and it excites me to see that there are others who think the same way I do about “life around the table.”
I agree with Shauna that it’s not necessarily about the food but rather 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.” Personally, I am learning that life is really about relationships. It’s not about success, fame, the accumulation of wealth or the next fad. The ONLY thing that will last into eternity is relationships. And what better way to foster relationships than through food? The Bible is filled with mandates to celebrate, to eat and be merry, to live together in peace and harmony with one another. From the Passover meal, to the wedding feast in Cana, to the Last Supper, the Bible illustrates for us how life around the table with others is supposed to be.
In Psalm 23 we are told that God prepares a feast for us and that our cup runs over. I just love that mental picture of food and wine and a party and joy. Is it any coincidence that the Hebrew toast is L’chaim!? To life!