There is wine here to revive you,
there is bread to make you strong.
–the merciful priest, in Les Miserables the musical
I’m a little late to be writing this post that I’ve been wanting to share for months now, since I first received Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine into my hot little hands. The tagline for the book is “a love letter to life around the table with recipes.” It is a book nearly in its own genre–part memoir, part sermon, part cookbook, part pulling up a chair. But before I get to this beautiful book, I have to share three reasons why this post has been delayed, because they are nevertheless tied up with the reasons you should put this book on your to-read list right away:
1. I DEVOURED (no pun intended) the first half of the book in the first two days it was in my possession–but then it moved into the I-don’t-want-to-finish-it-because-I-never-want-to-be-done-with-this-amazing-book territory. So I didn’t open it for a while, though I continued to carry it everywhere. (Does anyone else do this with books? Am I the only weird one?)
2. Then, two days before I was supposed to write about it in these here parts, I found myself in a metal-crunching, air-bag-deploying car accident in the middle of the interstate with one of my best friends. (Everyone is OK, thanks for asking. Our cars are a bit of another story.) The stress and the shock took over our bodies and minds, and I walked away from the computer for a few days.
3. THEN, Monday morning I woke up to two black eyes (see part of #2’s healing process) and a world in fear: the start of a terrible week, including the explosion in West, TX, less than 20 miles away from me. I was heartsick and glued to various screens, ravenous for any information about dear ones in the Midwest and Boston, but I’ll admit, more immediately for my neighbors in a town so close to any Baylor student’s heart.
These latter two points have produced a week of pacing, praying, crying, and calling, and I’m just now starting to deal.
So in light of all this as well as the less dramatic waves in the tide, let me tell you that Shauna speaks my language when it comes to grief and hope and healing: food. She reminds us that meals have the power to both bring us down to earth as well as raise us up to walk again. She reminds us that our hunger forces us to slow down, and feeding is one of the easiest and nearest ways to show love.
These were the truths I kept thinking of last week–when Alia and I finally made our way home after two hours with twisted metal on the highway, we forced ourselves to take a minute and eat. In hot curry and slippery noodles, we found a bit of healing. (We ended up doing a lot of eating that day. It’s how both of us deal.)
And it’s West’s Czech Stop kolaches that make it so near and dear to road trippers and Baylor students–any one of us can tell you one or twenty stories of late-night runs to West when we should have been doing something else. It’s a rite of passage and a “last” you try to to sneak in before graduation. So maybe it’s no surprise that it’s this story about the bakery feeding victims and first responders for free through the night of the explosion, and Connor’s post about prayer by way of kolaches that brought me the quickest to tears after a night of feeling so helpless, though so nearby. It’s true–food addresses something most human and most sacred at the same time.
I saved the end of the book for the Sunday after everything, the day I knew I would write this post. However, I didn’t know how apt the timing was until I found myself crying through it, sitting in a coffeeshop 17 miles away from headline news, heart raw from such a week:
There will be a day when it all falls apart.
There are things I can’t change. Not one of them. Can’t fix, can’t heal, can’t put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for […], the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in your hands.
So I’m grateful for food present in the midst of grief, for stories like the bakery’s, for the overwhelming amount of physical goods donated to the West relief. Every morsel serves as light in the darkness, it’s God made known in the taking, breaking, and sharing of bread. It is in community and Communion, in the Eucharist and eucharists, that we find hope and healing, but also the Presence of Christ who mourns with us.
I promise I didn’t give away the ending for you. I could have written so much more–a whole memoir-response–about this book. I could tell you about how this book made me create space at my table for those I love, how in a lot of ways, it teaches me to grow up. I’ve told a lot of people that the book itself, Shauna’s writing, is comfort food. Buy it. Read it. Love it. Give it.
The other plug I’ll make is by borrowing Shauna’s words: “It’s so easy to think that because you can’t dod something extraordinary, you can’t do anything at all.” This week carried a lot of grief for a lot of people, but I at least know there are ways to make a big difference in the town of West, TX.
If you’re far away, consider giving monetarily towards any of the following relief funds: West’s local bank fund, the Baylor West Relief Fund, the Salvation Army’s West Relief Fund, the American Red Cross’s Heart of Texas chapter, or #SongsforWest (a really awesome project, check it.) Even a little helps.