Eating Heaven: Spirituality at the Table by Simon Carey Holt (Acorn Press, $24.99)
Reviewed by Brian Porter
What a delicious book to feast on, whether as a gift to give or to receive. I have commended it to many guests at our table. For it is about eating, feasting, communion, remembering, anticipating, savouring, banqueting, picnicking, mourning. It is the deeply personal reminiscences of the author’s experience as a chef before and since ordination into the Baptist ministry. He is currently serving as Minister of the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne. His porch café at his church is well worth a coffee and yarn.
The table is the centrepiece of all the author’s vignettes: the kitchen table; the café table; the five-star table; the work table; the festive table; the multicultural table; and, last but not least, the communion table. This is the author’s thesis:
“Sitting down at a table to eat is an activity so grounded in the ordinary, so basic to the daily routines of life, we rarely ponder it beyond the simple inquiry, ‘What’s for dinner?’ However, scratch a little deeper and you discover in eating one of the most meaning-laden activities of our lives, one so immersed in human longing and relationship it’s a practice of sacred dimensions.”
I was immediately attracted to this book a few months ago when my constant complaint around our table about the print and television media had been its excessive coverage of food: menus, glossy display photography and newspaper supplements alongside laments about famine in Africa, food crises and dire predictions about eco-disaster. I began to see gourmandising as food porn for which we should all develop a distaste. That sounds a bit puritanical I admit, but we are addicted this porn when we ogle and indulge to excess rather than heed the starving at the gate. To use the title of a recent book, I was becoming Fed up with Gastroculture.
So much so I took a deep draughts of challenging clarion calls to wait at such tables where the hungry come to be fed. I joined the roster at the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda where 300 hot lunches are served every day of the year. This was such enriching food for me as a school chaplain that I encouraged well-fed teenage boys to ‘come and see’ and glimpse the depths of human hunger. I said to them that when the long procession of hungry men, abused women and their children came along in the queue they were to remember the words of Jesus, ‘whatever you do for these needy ones it is as if you are doing it for me.’ More recently, Simon Carey Holt’s meditative book has been equally nutritious.
Here is his last word:
“Through the table we know who we are, where we come from, what we value and believe. At the table we learn what it means to be family and how to live in responsible, loving relationships. Through the table we live our neighbourliness and citizenship, express our allegiance to particular places and communities, and claim our sense of home and belonging. At the table we celebrate beauty and express solidarity with those who are broken and hungry. Some of us express our vocation at the table, the calling to create, to provide and to serve. At the table we initiate, welcome, celebrate, mourn, farewell, scheme, covenant, form alliances, and hope for reconciliation. At the table we tell our stories and listen to the stories of others, embracing difference, celebrating heritage and welcoming the stranger. At the table we express faith, confess our failings, remember our obligations and reach out for grace and community. Could we live without it? Yes. Would we choose to? No. For life without the table is no life at all.”
The Melbourne Anglican, May 2015