Just as I predicted it was another trounce — poor Nicholas Ferrar didn’t stand a chance against Harriet Tubman and she goes on to square off against either Therese of Lisieux or Martha of Bethany in the Saintly 16 round making it, if I am not mistaken, the first all-women head-to-head. Stay tuned for that one! Wanted to let all of you my the few, the proud followers of these Shenanigans that after a delightful visit with family in the San Diego area I have now begun in earnest the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes conference. This afternoon was a session for rectors and deans to consider the future of the church. Surprisingly we had no easy answers. We were then forced, forced I tell you! to go on a dinner cruise around the San Diego harbor. I met some great people including the supreme executive committee of Lent Madness, the Rev’s Tim Schenck and Scott Gunn. I really do admire what they are doing and hope that you are following their efforts which you can see here. Do have a look around the whole website — it includes a most recent article about a subversive group which tried to co-opt the whole concept with a “Papal Madness,” bracketing the upcoming election of the next pope. The nerve! But now, on to more serious things, the task at hand: choosing between Benedict of Nursia and Anne.
Benedict of Nursia: whose real name was “Benedetto da Norcia” — doesn’t that have a much more melodious ring to it? I believe Benedetto means “Well-said” or “Well-spoken.” And hey, talk about coincidences! It’s time to cue up the Twilight Zone music — how creepy is that that Benedict shows up on the day Pope Benedict (or as I’ll always remember him — Cardinal Ratzinger…) steps down. Hmmm… are the LM supreme executives psychic or what!
Benedict was born to a noble Roman family in the town of Nursia in today’s Umbria in 480; he died in 547. His twin sister Scholastica also went on to become a saint and, if we’re lucky, we may learn more about her in a future Lent Madness. But not this year. Hearing a call to leave worldly life behind, Benedict left his studies in Rome at an early age. He took his old nurse (not to be confused with his hometown of Nursia) with him as a servant and they settled down to live in a small town, Enfide. He met a monk, Romanus of Subiaco, who gave him the monk’s habit and encouraged him to become a hermit for three years (no mention of what happened to the nurse…).
During these three years of solitude Benedict matured spiritually and won wide respect. Many sought him out for counsel and spiritual advice. He founded 12 monasteries, and, eventually, founded the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, which lies on a hilltop between Rome and Naples. Benedict’s greatest achievement is his Rule of St. Benedict which stresses moderation and balance in all things: worship, work, study, recreation. Much of Anglican spirituality is based on Benedict’s rule, including the rhythm of worship found in our Daily Office. Benedict’s Rule became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism.
Anne: pretty much everything that follows about her is prefaced with “legend has it…” or “tradition says…” because we actually know nothing, nada, zip about Anne. She is not mentioned in the Bible. Not once. Tradition says she is the mother of the Virgin Mary (therefore, as legend has it, Jesus’ granny). The only reference to her in anything remotely biblical is in the New Testament Apocrypha in the book of — hold your hats for this one! — the Protoevangelium of James (what the…??). I get to show off my smattering of Greek here: it means the “First Gospel of James.”
In Hebrew “Anne” would have been “Hannah” and there is a great OT story about Samuel whose mother Hannah prayed for a son even though she was beyond child-bearing years. Here, interestingly, the Islamic Qur’an picks up with another “legend has it:” Anne is revered in Islam as a highly spiritual woman and the mother of Mary. She is described as a woman who remained childless into old age (here’s the connection with the OT Hannah), prayed for a child hoping for a son and when a daughter was born she named her Mary and realized this daughter was God’s gift to her.
Musings: Now much as I love legends and traditions and can go on and on myself finding meaning in names, metaphors, and cross-cultural similarities, the story of the at-best-legendary Anne just doesn’t hold a candle for me to the real-life Benedict. Benedict’s influence was felt throughout the church, setting the tone for monastic life to this day. We Anglicans owe much to him as well in our own understanding that life is to be lived in a balance of work, play, and prayer. In one of our discussions today at this conference we examined the role of the church during times of massive change, how sometimes the church is at the forefront of that change and sometimes — sometimes simultaneously — it holds and safeguards what is deep and true and constant. Monastics such as Benedict embody that aspect of church during times of change — times such as we are living through today. My vote without hesitation today goes to Benedict — Benedetto da Norcia.
To vote, go here and and scroll to the bottom of the page.