Years ago I informed a professional colleague that I would be in New York soon on business, and suggested we should “have lunch or something.”
He responded in a way I will always remember: “Yes, I would love to break bread with you!”
Breaking bread. This was a simple change in language, but it carried a very different meaning from the business-casual meal I’d been imagining.
Breaking bread in the church means forming community. In medieval Europe it signified the forging of sacrosanct alliances, bound in bread and salt. “Breaking bread” has a joyous gravitas that most meals don’t generate nowadays.
My colleague wanted to share a meal, not a business conversation—a policy reinforced by several other meals I’ve enjoyed with him through the years. He forbids work talk from the table. He wants to get to know his associates as real people, not resources to be exploited. Meals with him are an almost holy time, and conversations are memorable.
I’ve been thinking of that lately as I prepare for a new spiritual practice my family is instituting. One evening a month, every month, we are opening our home for a potluck. It’s a come-as-you-are chance to break bread with our friends and a potential end to the “Oh, you know, we really ought to get together sometime!” conundrum. Month in, month out, getting together with them is already on the calendar. They’ll bring most of the food; we’ll provide the setting.
And then we’ll see what God does.
Recently, three books have crossed my desk that take on this intersection of friends and food, and explore the creation of spontaneous joy around the table.
In Eat with Joy, Rachel Marie Stone reminds us that when we savor delicious, nourishing food, we are actually tasting God. This is good news for all people, but particularly for those of us (especially women) who have had a conflicted or unhealthy relationship with food. (Check out her outstanding section on the shifting ideals for women’s body types, including some excellent observations about the growth of “skinny toys.”) The book exhorts us to pay more attention to food and those with whom we eat it—the English word “companion” stems for the Latin root for “bread” and “with”—and to have simple, grateful celebrations in a culture of excess.
Robin Davis’s Recipe for Joy is part memoir, part cookbook, part step-parenting how-to, and part conversion story. In it she chronicles her journey from being a single urbanite food critic who had worked for Bon Appetit and The San Francisco Chronicle to an Ohio stepmom and Catholic convert. She was “leaving the land of deadlines and demanding bosses and a constantly expanding workload to go into the abyss: my home life.” The threads that tie both the town-mouse and country-mouse phases of life together are food and love, both of which are in abundance here. Nothing makes her happier than watching people return to the kitchen for second helpings. (BTW, check out the recipes throughout the book. Yum.) It’s a memoir of finding joy around the table, whether that table is for one in the city or for thirty at Thanksgiving.
And finally, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist is billed as “a love letter to life around the table . . . with recipes.” Her most sacred moments, the ones when she has felt closest to God, have generally occurred in the context of a meal. Like Stone and Davis, Niequist wants readers not to become gourmet chefs but to notice meals, to share them with the people the love, and to gather together with others even if the house is messy and the calendar full. Share God’s love through food anyway.
I think these authors would approve of our monthly potlucks. I’m greatly looking forward to them myself—and may try out some of their recipes.
The dinner image is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.