A Sacramental World: Review of “Tables in the Wilderness”

I figured I would start posting reviews here of some of the books I’m reading. I started reading Preston Yancey’s blog earlier this year after coming across this great post reflecting on the significance of the Eucharist. So I was excited to check out his book “Tables in the Wilderness” when it came out. It didn’t disappoint. Here’s the 5-star review I posted to Amazon.

A Book to Savor

Like a fine meal, this is a book to savor. So rest weary traveler, take a seat at the table, and enjoy. Preston wields words and weaves them like spices and ingredients into visualized rhythms and layered associations until you enter an aesthetic space greater than the sum of its parts.

In a world where we so often feel abandoned by God and haunted by the silence, Preston invites us to a table he has found prepared in the wilderness, a table we do not need to prepare for ourselves in our striving, for it has been prepared by God and we are invited simply to feast and rest.

Preston has encountered God powerfully in the liturgical tradition, and invites us into the encounter with him. The invitation comes not so much through his successes as his failures, and the encounter with God in their midst. For those suspicious of high church, fear not: Preston once was too, and the meal laid out for you here is not an argument for liturgy so much as it is an experience of liturgy.

What I mean by this is that each chapter seamlessly blends holy rhythms with ordinary experiences, liturgical ritual with everyday routine, through the details of Preston’s own story. The craft is artfully subtle here, but theologically intentional. For example, in one chapter Preston dumps a bottle of wine into the sink in an act of vengeful spite and replaces it with water (I’ll let you read the chapter to get the context). Later in the chapter, under different circumstances and without warning, we come across Remigius, a medieval theologian, suggesting that water be added to communion to symbolize Christ joining the wine of his divinity with the water of our humanity.

The detail is subtle enough that, if read too quickly like a fast food meal, it would be easy to miss. But when we slow down to savor the spices of interwoven stories in combination, we recognize: the water of Preston’s humanity has encountered the wine of the living God. The Eucharist confronts Preston here, revealing divinity as more than an abstract concept but an encounter with the grace of the living God, discovered in the humanity of our petty vengeances and vindictive conceits.

This is one of countless examples in “Tables” that invite us to pay attention–to the God who is often missed in the mountain-top striving and discovered in the Tuesday morning details; to liturgy as training us towards a new way of seeing the world. It is not only what Preston writes, but the way he writes that carries within it the seeds of attentiveness, to a God who needs not so much to be found as received. To a God who often seems quietly absent to our religious performances, but through the rhythms and rituals and traditions of his Church is revealed as presently inviting us to slow down and see and savor.

So pay attention while reading to the sacraments of God’s people, the feast days of the calendar, the common prayers and stories of the saints–as they are interwoven with Preston’s story, they invite us to pay attention and discover that the God we are baptized into is the God who saturates the world into which we’re raised. That the Jesus encountered in the bread and the wine is the Jesus who holds the richness of the earth together in himself and invites us to feast. That the Spirit whose presence indwells the Church, draws us into encountering his presence afresh in the world.

A final thought: we often tell our stories in such a way as to make ourselves the hero. Ours are the courageous acts, the heroic deeds; we are exemplars of fortitude and courage. Yet Preston delightfully turns this custom on its head. He is vulnerable with his pride, his acts of hypocrisy, his moments of seeking-to-use-Jesus-to-be-better-than-others. And in so doing, he lets us in on grace, to Jesus being the hero of the story, to reveling in the God who encounters us in the unexpected moments, in the places where our striving has come to naught, encountered not in our trophies but in our scars.

Because the years Preston thought God was silent in the wilderness, is the time we learn God was teaching him to pay attention to the table that had already been prepared.

So go get this book. Take a bite. Take your time. And for those with teeth to chew and tongues to taste, savor and see that the Lord is good.

Author: "The Skeletons in God's Closet." Pastor: Imago Dei Community. Husband, Father, Foster Parent.

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