Soul Food: St Benedict’s Day (21st March)

21st March is St Benedict’s Day – he isn’t normally accredited with a feast day as such, but as Winchester Diocese, the one to which I belong, is reconnecting with Benedict I thought it apt we should mark the day in some way. However Benedict wasn’t a great one for feasting, despite allowing his monks a pound of bread a day. On the subject of Lent he wrote this:

The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the spiritual father will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore everything must be done with the abbot’s approval.

I did seek within the Rule of St Benedict for some permission for feasting on a saint’s day, but all I could discover was that you use the Sunday form of worship instead of every day form. Nothing about feasting at all!

So today we brunched on  Eggs Benedict!

Eggs Benedict

2015-03-21 12.16.59This is normally served with a slice of ham, or perhaps bacon, and on a toasted breakfast muffin. You will need to seek permission from your ‘abbot’ in order to break from the Lenten fast and indulge in meat – we kept to the vegetarian option. I also served our eggs on slices of Soda Bread left over from St Patrick’s Day which worked really well.

Ingredients:

  • 175g butter
  • 3tbsp water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon juice
  • poached eggs (one for each serving)
  • slices of Soda Bread

1. Melt the butter and skim off the froth (I do this in the microwave approx 1min 30sec). Leave to cool.

2. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan whisk the water and the egg yolks together (in Lenten Style, keep the egg whites to bulk out scrambled egg for lunch), with a little salt and pepper, for 30 secs until combined and light and frothy.

2015-03-21 12.02.21

3. Put the pan on a low heat and whisk for 3 minutes until the mixture leaves ‘a ribbon’ for 5 seconds. DO NOT SCRAMBLE YOUR EGGS.

4. Remove from the heat and whisk the mixture as you dribble in the cool butter. You will discover a whitish ‘whey’ at the bottom of the melted butter, do not add this. I haven’t discovered  a use for this other than feeding to the kitchen cat!

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5. Once the sauce has thickened, add the lemon juice to taste. You have now made Hollandaise Sauce (which is reputed to be rather tricky – I was quite impressed at my first attempt – I think the key is not to let the eggs cook as you whisk them otherwise they will scramble). I haven’t given instructions to poaching the eggs – surely if you can make Hollandaise sauce you can poach an egg!

6. Serve the eggs on top of the soda bread, and pour over the sauce.

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Through Lent with Benedict: Ongoing Conversion

As we are encouraged to think with Benedict we are reminded of Martin Luther:

Martin Luther was a man used by God to bring the Church back to its roots. Born in 1483 it was his experience of corruption when he visited Rome in 1510 that shaped his life. He was appalled by what was being done in the name of God. After decades of corruption and dis-ease, in 1517 he was compelled to publish his 95 theses condemning the current practices in the church – and tradition has it, nailing them to a church door in Wittenberg. He went on writing, publishing and campaigning for change throughout his life. In 1534 he published a complete translation of the Bible in German, saying that all should be able to read the Scriptures in their own language. His actions and convictions refounded the Church in the West, the Church we know today. He was used by God in a mighty way!

As Nuremburg gets ready to celebrate 500 years since the reformation, a Playmobil figurine created in recognition of the anniversary, has become the fastest selling figurine. Read more here

There is something very attractive about being ‘reformed’. Many of us are unhappy with our identity, our image, our status. Fairytales such as Cinderella are as popular as ever, and constantly being retold for a new generation. As a family we saw Gok Wan star as the Fairy Godmother in a Pantomime of Cinders – Gok has made his name in transforming, ‘reforming’ people to become confident in their own skin. This is a wonderful skill to have -to enable to others to see themselves as the beautiful people that God created them to be. I don’t know if Gok has a Christian faith, but I am sure that Jesus would be pleased with the way that he takes people with little self esteem and nurtures them. It is in seeing ourselves as others see us that we are able to grow and develop.

As we head towards Easter we are reminded that

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  (from John 3:14-21)

Jesus came so that our lives may be transformed, reformed, turned upside down. Jesus came and brought life out of death, his own death, and hope out of despair. Jesus came so that through him we will find no longer find condemnation, that through his love religion becomes a way of drawing closer to God and seeing him reflected in ourselves and our own lives. Sadly religion has a habit of going its own way.

The thing is, and Benedict was quite keen on reminding us of this, conversion is not a one off decision. Conversion is a way of life. Once we have given our lives to Jesus we belong to him and we inherit all the riches of his battles, his ability to turn death into life, his ability to love and be loved. However, we do not become exempt from making mistakes, from falling back into selfish ways, or even dogmatic trenches. Jesus longs for us to released from such traps, which is why we need to be willing to come before God, openly and honestly, regularly, to see ourselves as we truly are, warts and all. In Benedict’s rule, the first thing that the community was called to do each day was to spend time with God, time in confession as well as prayer and praise. It can be difficult to admit our faults to anyone, sometimes it is hardest to admit our mistakes to ourselves, but it is only by doing so that we can move on. As we admit our wrongdoings to Jesus we find that we are forgiven, we are given a new lease of life and discover something fresh in our understanding of the identity of God, and we are called into a new understanding of our own conversion.

Through Lent with Benedict: Obedient Listening

The opening words of the Rule of St Benedict are ‘Listen carefully’,

Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.

The  advice is good. How can we learn anything without listening to our elders and betters, those wiser than ourselves? But who do we put into these categories of ‘elder’, ‘better’, wiser’ – who should we be listening to? Do we listen to Ben – as the young monks of the Benedictine order had promised to do? Do we listen to society, the world we live in, the church circles we move within? Should we be listening to ourselves, trusting our innate spirituality – do we listen to our hearts or with our hearts, and what is the difference? Do we listen to God? Perhaps all these are ways of hearing God’s will, listening to the world he has set us within, the beating of the hearts he has placed within us, the saints he has set us alongside.

Of course once we have heard the word of God, once we have acknowledged the direction in which he is calling us, we need to be willing to obey God. For many of us it is difficult enough being obedient to worshipping God on a Sunday morning, putting God first of our finances, first in our rare moments of quiet. Being obedient challenges our innately disobedient desires, the knee jerk reaction that, as soon as we are told ‘don’t touch’ wants to poke and prod. Obedience challenges us to respond to events outside our natural spheres, challenges our priorities and makes us question our own, often comfortable, status quo. And who are we being called to be obedient to?

Our gospel reading today is the passage in the Bible where Jesus turns the tables. Jesus seems to be breaking all the rules, being disobedient to the way that the Temple is run – are we to follow his example?

When there is injustice and places of worship are being used to abuse and take advantage of those who are weak and vulnerable maybe the answer is ‘yes’.

For Benedict the answer to that question of obedience has a simple answer, the vow of obedience taken is to the Abbot, but also to each other, and as Ben points out, it is often the youngest member of the community who holds the answer. Both the brothers and the Abbot are answerable to each other, but beyond that they are first and foremost to be answerable to Jesus. It is God who deserves their, and our, obedience.

This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true and noble King, Christ the Lord. (Prologue, The Rule of Saint Benedict)

But this King, this Lord of all, is a King of great humility, our New Testament reading tells us that we should have the same mind as he who

though he was in he form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 1-11)

The word here translated as ‘humble’ has the same root as soil/earth – if we are to be humble people, walking in Jesus footsteps, we are to be earthy, grounded people. Bishop Tim reminds us that

the challenge laid down by Paul in Philippians is to live a life worthy of our calling.

There is a holy ‘catch 22 here’: how do we know what our calling is if we have not been listening out for it, and if we are busy ‘doing’ how do we find time to stop and listen. Obedient listening seeks to merge these two areas, listening with an attitude of obedience, seeking out the words of challenge and action and being ready to act upon them.

In the Portway and Danebury group of churches we may already be halfway there – as we prepared to advertise for a new Team Rector we spent time in prayerful discussion, seeking out the vision for this group of churches in this time and place. We have ‘heard’ the vision, we now need to be obedient to what we have heard and put it into practice in our individual parishes. The vision of the Diocese of Winchester is set out with Strategic Priorities, and being ‘prophetic global citizens’ is one of these priorities, which, as our Lord Bishop says,

means offering a Christian perspective on what is happening in the world about us and getting stuck in.

For some of us that may mean being called to serve or support those overseas, but we will all have our own ‘frontline’ on which to serve. For most of us we are already placed on the frontline, amongst family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. If we are to serve them in  an earthy grounded way, the first thing that we need to do is to listen to them. Our own vision states that ‘we seek to make Christ known by loving and serving our communities’. If we are to heed St Benedict and be obedient to his rule, we need to be obedient to our own Team Vision. Now is the time to bring it to life, to start acting it out, to transform it from a paper exercise to a reality which brings the life and love of Christ into the various places in which we are placed, as individuals, as parishes and as a team of churches working, witnessing and worshipping together.

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