"...to make this meal an event that all around the table can celebrate together, taking pleasure in the food, the company, the occasion, all of which... are foretastes of the kingdom of God."
-Margaret Kim Peterson, as quoted in Room at My Table
Reviewing Room at My Table
It is my pleasure to review Evelyn Bence’s new book: Room at My Table: Preparing heart and home for Christian hospitality. Having previously published Prayers for Girlfriends and Sisters and Me, in addition to the award-winning seasonal novel Mary’s Journal, Bence has turned her attention to what is perhaps her greatest love, food and hospitality.
The book, comprised of 52 reflections on food, cooking, and hospitality, is full of heart, and a joy to read. One can read the volume straight through, or take the reflections one at a time.
Room at my Table may seem, at at first glance, like light reading. Indeed, the lively prose and entertaining anecdotes make for quick page turning. But after digesting a few reflections, one finds a volume that is expertly written, and carefully crafted through and through. On a personal note, I was thoroughly impressed with the writing and the spiritual exposition displayed in this inspiring book.
Chapter by Chapter
Each chapter, or reflection, includes a pithy quotation, as well as a Bible verse to start off. Bence then offers a personal story, or thought-provoking musing, involving cooking, entertaining, friendship, and more. Each reflection ends with a prayer, followed by several engagement questions for personal or group use.
The quotations are extremely well chosen, and the reader feels that Bence writes (and lives) with theological depth, grounded in the words of Scripture and tradition. In other words, the Christian heart of Room at my Table is not layered on top, but rather woven in and through the entire text. For example, one of Bence's own prayers, simple and profound, tells the story: "Lord, you have been gracious to us. Give us the patience and self-control to be gracious to others, whether in our homes, at work, or at play."
The Heart of the Book
For those interested in entertaining, you will find practical recipes, tips and tricks for hosting small or large groups, and even a few cautionary tales. However, the true joy is Bence’s personal stories, and these will inspire the cook and non-cook alike. All of the tales are heartfelt, and some deeply vulnerable and inspirational. Take, for example, the young neighborhood girl who shows up in multiple vignettes. Shy and with special needs, she thrives in the kitchen under Bence’s warm tutelage. As it turns out, she herself has more than a few lessons to offer.
In the end, one realizes that cooking and hospitality are more than simple hobbies for this author; they are the story of her life. Furthermore, food finds its way to the center of her walk with God. Memory, friendship, joy, sorrow, birth, death, success, failure - all the ups and downs of life are written into the well-worn recipe cards of Bence’s kitchen.
Who Would Enjoy this Book?
Anyone who loves to cook or host will appreciate the wisdom of Room at My Table. Additionally, someone looking for an inspirational and entertaining text that can be read one reflection at a time will find this a perfect fit. Finally, the volume would be an excellent option for a church book group.
Some years back, a series called Chicken Soup for the Soul drew many readers and printed many copies. With Room at My Table, Evelyn Bence has created something even better: a full course meal for the soul, one dish and one story at a time.
Evelyn Bence, in addition to her books, has published personal essays in the Washington Post, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, and forthcoming in Washingtonian magazine. She lives in Arlington, Virginia. Room at My Table is available at Upper Room Publishing.
Did you enjoy this article? Consider subscribing to Building Faith and get every new post by email. It’s free and always will be. Subscribe to Building Faith.