'Come and eat. Here, drink something.'
The invitation never loses loses its potential. . . .
~ Evelyn Bence
I have been privileged to enjoy a place at the table of writer Evelyn Bence, whose recently published new book, Room at My Table: Preparing Heart & Home for Christian Hospitality (Upper Room Books), deserves its own privileged place on your bookshelf. . . but only after you've read it and absorbed its encouraging message that you, too, can make the most of opportunities to break bread meaningfully with others. As Bence states in her introduction, her book is for hosts and their guests, for "fledglings" who want to learn something about the art of hospitality, for "nostalgics" who long to sit at tables where iPhones remain off and safely tucked away, and especially for people who are "hungry for relationships grounded in real time."
Bence draws on her own long experience as a seasoned and warmly welcoming host with an eye for detail and a talent for storytelling to present a companionable volume of 52 reflections on all manner of gatherings involving people and food. She laces her brief anecdotes of successes and (tiny) failures with humor and telling turns of phrase, reminding us that while "some social hazards of gathering people together never change" — indeed, "[e]ntertaining. . . is a risk. Every time. Even if hospitality is perceived to be one's spiritual gift" — an invitation to another's table is always an honor, and the opportunity to serve even strangers offers considerable reward.
Room at My Table is a slim volume beautifully organized into five sections: "Setting the Scene", "Stirring the Pot", "Serving Up Soup", "Sitting at Table", "Savoring the Taste". (Notice the action verbs!) Within each section is a series of chapters addressing a particular aspect of the broader topic: dressing for dinner, for example, considering the possibilities of what to serve, pausing to pray (or not) at table, observing or breaking with family tradition or the expected. Epigraphs (quotations, all sourced, from the Bible or from writers on the subject of food and hospitality) precede each story, and one of Bence's lovely prayers or blessings follows; both giving the anecdote additional spiritual context. Each chapter concludes with a set of thoughtful questions or suggestions for "making it yours". In between, Bence provides some tried-and-true recipes that she herself has served; among them are Breakfast Muffins, Uncle Henry's Ham and Mustard, Chicken- or Turkey-Corn Soup, Wendy's Rice with Olives and Chiles, and Mom's Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread.
Bence's conversational approach to her subject makes Room at My Table highly readable. She neither prescribes nor proscribes; her nuanced stories are nevertheless instructional. Her realistic perspective allows room for the occasional, often very funny, misstep, imperfection, or mishap that calls for grace and a big smile to overcome. Her meditations, which she notes come "from my heart", leave readers confident and inspired to reach out beyond themselves "to produce a medley of spiritual fruit" that will nourish everyone at the table before them.
Evelyn Bence is the author of Prayers for Girlfriends and Sisters and Me, Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns, and Mary's Journal, and co-author of Just as We Were: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up Born Again. She continues to contribute to Daily Guideposts, an annual devotional. Her personal essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Christianity Today, and numerous other publications.___________________________________
Read an excerpt from Room at My Table.
Purchases of Room at My Table may be made through the publisher or Amazon or other book sellers.
Evelyn Bence on FaceBook