Monday, April 1, 2013

Some thoughts on Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist (part 1)

I used to be one of those people who did not cook. In my defense, I was a student living on campus who had to put up with sharing a kitchen with 15-20 people, only being able to buy what I could carry home on the bus and only having a very very tiny freezer compartment. As a result, I ate lots of diet microwave meals and canned soup. It was close enough to nutritionally sound but not very inspiring. Extra issues like campus parking permits and not knowing what state the shared kitchens would be in made showing hospitality difficult.

When I graduated that all had to change because I moved into a house with four other young adults where it was expected that we would all take turns with the cooking and where showing hospitality to the many visiting friends of various members of the household was a regular occurrence. And so I had to learn to cook and bake. It happened slowly, with a great deal of mess, quite a few under or overcooked dishes, some questionable ingredient choices and occasional use of more food dye than is likely healthy.

I would probably read almost anything by Shauna Niequist. She is the kind of author I quote in wedding cards and babble about when asked in job interviews about books that have had an impact on me. The coming together of my long standing love of Shauna’s writing and my newer interest in cooking and hospitality in her new book Bread and Wine had me very excited to get my hands on the book. Instead of posting a more traditional review, I thought it would be fitting to post some reflections over the course of several posts on some ideas in the book that have resonated with me.

“One friend promises she’ll start having people over when they finally have the money to remodel. Another says she’d be too nervous that people wouldn’t eat the food she made, so she never makes the invitation. But it isn’t about perfection, and it isn’t about performance. You’ll miss the richest moments in life -- the sacred moments when we feel God’s grace and presence through the actual faces and hands of the people we love-- if you’re too scared or too ashamed to open the door. I know it’s scary, but throw open the door anyway.”

“But entertaining isn’t a sport or competition. It’s an act of love if you let it be that. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want- a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide.”

One of the ideas running through the book is that cooking and hospitality at their most meaningful are not a performance but an unpretentious way to love other people amidst our imperfect homes and imperfect lives. This is so important but something we forget so often. Our culture is overloaded with glossy food and home magazines and here in Australia at least, cooking reality TV shows with their impossibly complicated recipes and astoundingly talented chiefs rule the airwaves. Personally I have to fight the tendency to compare my still developing cooking skills to those of friends who cook well and to banish memories of stressed tidy ups that somewhat dampened the joy of having people visit our house growing up.

Certainly there are times where it is great to show your love for someone by making the effort to cook something special, but I’m learning is that as much as possible it is better to put my heart and soul into engaging with the people I’m spending time with, not into trying to make sense of complicated recipes full of ingredients I hadn’t heard of until my treasure hunt like quest through the grocery story to find them. People don’t usually notice or care if the meal is made from a simple combination of ingredients or if there is two week old newspapers on the coffee table. Although many of my friends are good cooks, I mostly only have vague recollections of what was served at meals at their houses over the years and I have no recollection of how tidy their houses were. What I do remember is meaningful conversation and feeling like I belonged. In the end, that is what matters.

Part 2 coming soon.....