Category Archives: Eating Heaven

‘Eating Heaven’ in The Melbourne Anglican

It is encouraging to see another review of Eating Heaven in the May issue of The Melbourne Anglican. For those of my non Anglican-speaking friends, here it is.


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

Another review of Eating Heaven

Another review of Eating Heaven has appeared in Teach: The Journal of Christian Education.

Eating Heaven, short listed for the 2014 Australian Christian Book of the Year awards, blends both anecdotal and scholarly research to produce a highly readable commentary on eating at “the tables of daily life.”

Simon Carey Holt has written this book from perspectives that have been formed from his past careers and life experiences as a trained chef, university lecturer and researcher in urban sociology and spirituality, and most recently, the senior minister at the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne. Holt emphasises that “Eating is a sacred business . . . a spiritual act,” and keeps returning to the themes that to eat well, “is not to eat extravagantly, but to do so mindfully, respectfully and justly.”

Each chapter of Eating Heaven is dedicated to a particular social setting of eating activity, and raises issues surrounding tensions of competing values faced in everyday life. The first introductory chapter attempts to establish the links between eating and spirituality, and “the role that food plays in any society as an expression of culture and a maker of meaning.” Holt claims that while eating together is now challenged, nevertheless the family kitchen table is a formative place where individual identity is shaped, and “tastes and prejudices inherited.”

From the kitchen table, Holt moves to the backyard, detailing changes that have occurred in Australia’s shrinking backyards, but where the barbecue still remains a national Australian icon, and a “quintessential ‘emblem of Australian hospitality.’” While barbecues are considered an informal way of establishing relationships, there are deeper meanings to the barbecue culture that he explores.

Other chapters are dedicated to the increasing café culture emerging in Australia; the conflicting values of “eating, beauty and justice” when dining at the Five-star Table; the creative contribution that a vocation at the “culinary workbench” provides, hand-in-hand with the demands of the long and unsociable work hours intrinsic to the hospitality industry, but which draws diner and cook together.

The two chapters, The Festive Table and The Multicultural Table, share topics of food rituals and feasting surrounding various cultural celebrations and mourning, emphasising both cultural differences and social inclusion, with a “call to a deeper and more transformative multiculturalism.”

The final two chapters continue with a strong spiritual focus in describing elements of The Communion Table, and a reiteration of Eating Heaven. Holt views the communion table as “the table of Jesus” and observes that Jesus was a man of “the multiple tables of life,” where He shared the ‘good news’ and called on His believers to follow suit. The last supper, shared by Jesus with His disciples is considered by Holt as the “signature sacrament,” and he goes so far as to propose that Jesus may have been crucified because of where and with whom He chose to eat. Holt claims that while the title of his book might be considered by many as an “audacious one,” nevertheless, the practice of eating together at the shared table, “is one that grounds us deeply in the ‘sustaining earth’ while always in reach of the ‘highest heaven.’”

Eating Heaven has wide readership appeal: whether as sociologists, social welfare workers, parents socialising their children through conversations and courtesies at the meal table; or others going about their everyday activities of civic mindedness, looking out for the needy within our communities, working towards social and environmental sustainability.

Christian educators, in interpreting and implementing the new Australian Curriculum, more particularly if teaching in learning areas of the Humanities and Social Sciences; the

Food and Nutrition component of Health and Physical Education; or Food Technologies in the Technologies learning area, will find this book to be a valuable resource for embedding spiritual values in their teaching for “promoting the intellectual, physical, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development of young Australians” (cited in Wiltshire, 2014, October 17, para. 5), as stipulated in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, the foundation for the current Australian Curriculum. Wiltshire in his recent review of the Australian Curriculum, found little evidence however of spirituality being incorporated in the actual curriculum.

Simon Carey Holt calls us to examine how the everyday and ordinary activity of eating can be used to exercise the gift of hospitality. In so doing, “we celebrate beauty and express solidarity with those who are broken and hungry,” while anticipating the heavenly banquet.

[Reviewed by Glenys Perry, TEACH: Journal of Christian Education, Volume 8, Issue 2, 2014]

Eating Heaven on Wesley Impact

A few weeks back I was on Wesley Impact, a program on Channel 9 (way too early on a Sunday morning) talking about Eating Heaven. It was all part of Homeless Persons Week and the segment included some photos of the great work done at Collins Street in our partnership with Urban Seed.

Thinking it too cringe worthy, I failed to tell anyone it was on. My beloved has just seen it and assures me the cringe factor is minimal. So here it is. The interview is in two parts with a music performance in between.

The good thing is you can turn me off whenever you like! And it’s relatively brief.

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