Room at My Table by Evelyn Bence
hospitality and prayer
Subtitle: “Preparing Heart and Home for Christian Hospitality.” Published by Upper Room Books. This book contains 52 devotionals on Christian hospitality focusing on the art of entertaining friends, family and guests through a meal, coffee or dessert time in your home. In addition to inspiration, each devotional offers practical entertaining ideas and each ends with a short closing prayers with questions for reflections.
Evelyn says, “Each meditation/devotional in my new book Room at My Table: Preparing Heart and Home for Christian Hospitality ends with a prayer specific to one aspect of a gathering: setting the scene, stirring the pot, serving up a meal, sitting at table, savoring the aftertaste.”
|Reviewed by Suzart on November 25, 2014|
|Review: “For people hungry for relationships grounded in real time-an invitation to reach out and enjoy face-to-face communications: table talk” is how Evelyn Bence prefaces her book Room at My Table: Preparing Heart and Home for Christian Hospitality (Upper Room Books, 2014). Bence bookends each of her 52 musings on hospitality with quotes (ranging from Michael Pollan to Emily Dickinson to Mary Karr to St. Paul), brief prayers, and questions for reflection or discussion. But if I were trying to locate Room at My Table on a bookstore shelf, I would be hard-pressed to know whether to search for it in Religion & Spirituality, Home & Garden, or Fiction & Literature. Room at My Table offers all of these qualities in its exploration of what it means to be hospitable in the 21st century, and it does so with a genuine, conversational voice, with polished prose, and with the challenge of “Why not?” rather than omniscient advice about “How to.”
Room at My Table is not about centerpieces, menus (although Bence provides several favorite recipes), table settings, or spotless rooms. Rather, Bence offers rich fare in her reflections on hospitality, and serves up anecdotes from her own experiences, the successes as well as the failures. We learn about picnics, potlucks, dinners, and distributing bagged lunches to street people. She reflects on stressful events that occur when hosting: table gossip about an absent guest, controversial comments that offend, her own struggles with managing her expectations of herself as the host and of her guests. The emphasis is always on connection and community. In several pieces, Bence focuses on the relationship between memory and food. She shows how cookbooks and recipes passed along in a family enflesh memory when meals prepared from them are recreated and re-enacted. (My favorite is the story of Uncle Henry and Ham and Mustard.) She recollects learning how to cook and how to entertain from observing family members, and she talks about welcoming a young neighbor girl into her home and teaching her the same. Especially moving is Bence’s description of cooking dinner in the kitchen of an elderly neighbor on her last night before moving into a senior’s residence.
Henri Nouwen says that “when we break bread together we…enter into a place of mutual vulnerability and trust.” We can trust the narrator of Room at My Table precisely because she does not offer herself as an authority armed with a glue gun to prevent or to fix everything that might go wrong in a situation of hosting folks at table or elsewhere. The narrator is as vulnerable as I am when I invite others into my home, an intimate place that reflects the very essence of my self and my life, my poverty and my wealth, my strengths and my weaknesses, the heart of my existence. As a reader, I trust this author because she invites me into her intimate experiences, choosing to explore the difficulties as well as the rewards of hosting others, and understanding the decision to be hospitable as a ministry rather than a social triumph. Room at My Table says “Welcome, honored guest!”
|Reviewed by Erma on November 12, 2014|
|Review: A review of Room at My Table
by Evelyn Bence
The first assignment in my freshman English Comp class was to write an essay that would evoke some kind of emotion without telling the readers directly what you wanted them to feel. What’s truly meaningful can so easily become trivial.
Most of us have trouble telling others about God and our relationship to Him. Not so, Evelyn Bence. She has a remarkable and unique talent for sharing her spiritual life. In her latest book, Room at My Table, the message is clear. No TV evangelist’s rhetoric. No street corner preaching. No Billy-Graham- type witnessing. In vignettes a page or two in length she shares her Christian witness by simply describing meals with friends in her home and around her dining table.
Each short sketch begins with a biblical quote. In many cases an appropriate quote from a lay writer is there as well. Other biblical references are included throughout the writings. A couple of them sent me to my bible when I thought I knew them well but needed a check-up. A sentence prayer about the topic and its relationship to daily life ends each section. The author talks to God about ordinary events – when things go right . . . and maybe not so right. His number is obviously on her auto-dial.
Two or three questions at the end can jump-start a study group discussion or trigger some family sharing. Some of the challenges remind the reader do his or her own discussion with God. How do you pray when you think you need to be perfect? When your party plans turn out to be what you want and not what your guests want? Just a gentle nudge.
Cooking a meal is only part of the hostess role. The pairing of guests, the welcome at the door, the ways to stimulate conversation, the attractive table settings are all part of the author’s making Room at My Table. Autobiographical sketches by a person with a God-given gift of hospitality – and witness.
Added by Karen Barber on November 11, 2014