Friday, April 5, 2013

The Good Life

I've been waiting all week to share with you the thing that stuck most deeply in my heart as I read Shauna Niequist's new book, Bread and Wine.  Here it is:

Figure out how you experience the world.  Then do that.

I said on Monday that I thought this book might be my fairy tale.  Somewhere in its pages, I had honestly expected to find my happily ever after.  That piece of life I was missing because it seems, or at least a couple of months ago, it seemed, that it was this kind of experience that I was looking for - a place around the table, good food in front of me, good friends all around.  It seems magical, doesn't it?

It did to me once.

But as I continued to read through the stories and turn the pages, the magic shattered under the weight of a bigger question.  As much as I had considered that maybe this is what I was missing, maybe this was magic, this something so simple as a shared meal, the more I read, the more I realized how absolutely agonizing and obligatory that kind of thing sounded.  My heart was burdened with the idea just reading it.  I hadn't expected that out of myself.

It was disappointing.  It was stop-reading-right-now, this-book-obviously-isn't-your-book disappointing.  I wanted to stop reading.  I wanted to be disappointed and let that be that.  It would have been easy to do so.  This wasn't the happy little storybook I wanted, and if I hadn't agreed to read the thing, maybe I would have put it down. 

I'm so glad it didn't.

The question Bread and Wine kept asking, through the power of its stories (which are about so much more than food), the question that shattered my magic was: how do you experience the world?

Shauna experiences the world through food and table.  She experiences the world by cooking for it and eating with it and finding enough space around her table to bring her world together and experience as a community, around the food, what the world is.

I decided don't.  Again, I hadn't expected, or even suspected, as much.  I thought if there was anyone who could get around a table, it was me.  That is still somewhat true.  I love food.  I love good food.  I love cooking food, experimenting, blending the flavors.  I feel an honor in nourishing my loved ones with fantastic, healthy dishes and polishing off with a fresh-baked dessert anything.  I have an honest appreciation for all of that.  Which is, I guess, how it was so easy to fool myself for so long thinking I ought to have more of this.

It's not how I experience the world.  It's not, primarily, the thing that speaks the most about this place to me.  And it's not, primarily, the thing I feel I can speak the most through.  That was the end of that fairy tale.

And the start of a new one, maybe.  Or at least a deeper prayer.  Because the question this book asked me - how do you experience your world - is one that I have to say even weeks later, I'm nowhere close to answering.  I have moments that seem so clear, so obviously what everything is - everything is this moment.  But I don't really have a grasp on what those moments are, other than holy, and I haven't figured out what makes them holy, other than God, and that makes them a little hard to grasp in any sort of narrative.

I think the goal is getting that kind of stuff into narrative.  It's figuring out how it is that you experience the world so that you can have more of those moments.  Shauna hungers for the table; if she didn't understand how powerfully that speaks into her life, would she hunger the same way?  No.  And she would miss so much story (and we would miss so much book).  The question I'm asking myself, in holy and mundane moments, in this and in that, is: what do I hunger for?  I ask you the same: what do you hunger for?

What is it that powerfully speaks into your experience, that defines the way you see the world and makes life deeper because you have it in you and in your life and in your experience?  That's the key to the fairy tale, if you want to call it something so whimsical.  That is the key to happily ever after, which is more holy than Disney ever made it sound.

If you want to live the rich life, the kind of life that maybe has au poivre and Pont Neuf but maybe has mud-covered boots and calloused hands or fresh paint and flowers or kids and kittens or whatever it is, you have to figure out how you experience the world.  Primarily, how this world speaks to you and how you feel most free to speak into this world.  That is the heart of your story.

I think when we can answer that question, we tap into the holy.  We hit at that thing that is wholly created in us for His glory and our joy (although, not all is pure joy; there is such thing as labor of love, and labor is hard work).  We touch that us-shaped hole around us and in doing so, touch that God-shaped hole inside of us where we're begging Him to fill us up with more of this.

So I'm asking myself lately, where is this place for me?  I hope you will ask yourself the same.  And if you figure it out, let me know.  You know I'll tell you if I ever discover such my place.  It's cool to see where everybody fits.

The same way it's been cool to share space with Shauna in her kitchen, even if only for a short story or so.  Thank you, Shauna, for sharing.  

Pre-order Bread and Wine from Amazon today.  The book releases April 9.

Per federal regulations, I am required to tell you that in exchange for my blogging and digital reviews, Zondervan publishing provided a free copy of Bread and Wine for my perusal.  I must also tell you, as a matter of personal integrity, that I am being completely honest in my words and that the offer from Zondervan does not influence my opinion nor my statement. In the sixth grade, I once gave a book report that began, "This book was terrible.  Do not waste your time reading it."  The teacher pulled me into the hall and said I would get an F if I didn't change my tune, that the idea of a book report was to get people to read the book.  I took the F because I don't believe that; I believe in being honest about a book.  If it sucks, I'm going to tell you it sucks.  This book, Bread and Wine, does not suck.

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