Who has ever hesitated to invite a friend over for a meal because of a dirty house, doubts about cooking, and performance anxiety? *raises hand* Inviting someone into our homes, even if they are a dear friend, can feel like more work than it’s worth. Wouldn’t it be easiest to go out to eat instead? In her book about hospitality called Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist argues that the home table is central to the human experience and ultimately human connection; it is “the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.” Sharing a meal at a table is an act of giving and receiving, thereby acknowledging our dependency on others and allowing them to meet our needs. It is a moment of honesty in which we communicate that no, our house isn’t perfect, that yes, there’s dog hair everywhere, and that in the midst of the hustle and struggles of our own day, we are committed to carving out a time to take care of each other. Niequist explains it this way: “I’m not talking about cooking as performance, or entertaining as a complicated choreography of competition and showing off. I’m talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just for a few hours, from the crush and cruelty of the day.”
Releasing myself from the expectations of hospitality as performance was wonderfully liberating. I don’t need to replicate that four-tiered cake on the cover of Martha Stewart’s cookbook or achieve Ina Garten levels of culinary complexity. I don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy ingredients or peruse Bon Appetit for the most impressive recipes. Hospitality is about a disposition of the heart, not delivering a product. So next time a friend suggests going out to eat, offer to have them over to your place instead, let go of insecurities, and allow yourself, your home, and your cooking be a gift to another.
Bread & wine: a love letter to life around the table, with recipes. by Shauna Niequist
In this memoir about hospitality and food, Shauna describes her own successes and failures with cooking for others. She encourages readers to contemplate the centrality of the table in the home and in the context of friendships and relationships. She writes from a religious perspective but non-religious readers will likely also glean some pearls of wisdom from this beautiful book. Shauna Niequist is an all-around wonderful author so it would be remiss of me to not use this opportunity to encourage you to read her other memoirs, Bittersweet, Cold Tangerines, and Present Over Perfect.
The turquoise table: finding community and connection in our own front yard by Kristin Schell
Kristin Schell set out a turquoise table in her front yard and invited her neighbors to come sit and eat with her. This turned into an international phenomenon with people all over the world setting up their own turquoise table to create a “front yard revival”. She describes her own journey towards hospitality and offers concrete advice for anyone interested in setting up their own turquoise table.
Les miserables by Victor Hugo
I consider this one of the most moving novels about the power of hospitality. One act of kindness and hospitality by Bishop Myriel Jean Valjean’s life forever. You can also watch the movie (2014), the other movie (1998), or the other other movie (1978).
Having the time and resources to be hospitable is a luxury not all are privy to. Many individuals and families in our own country and overseas are displaced, without a home.
The morning they came for us: dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni
This award-winning non-fiction book chronicles the lives of ordinary Syrians affected by the war. It engages readers with a nuanced and thoroughly-researched account of violence and displacement.