Sunday, 24 February 2013

In the Soup

“In The Soup” by Robert Walsh

My dictionary says that the word minister is etymologically related to the word minestrone. I am not making this up. They are both derived from a Latin root that means to serve.

The image of ministry as minestrone is particularly apt for the ministry churchpeople do all together that make us a ministering congregation. Each bean, each vegetable, each unit of macaroni or pinch of spice gives not only its substance to the soup but also its spirit, its texture its color, its flavour and aroma. Each person offers a unique set of gifts, and if we do our job organizing well, each gift will be creatively matched with a need – so that the whole business becomes a warm, nourishing, life giving religious community.

All who serve the church and the principles and values we hold dear are ministers. If you are doing part of that work, you are doing ministry, no matter how unlikely it may seem. You are in the soup – the minestrone of ministry!"

I really love the fact that ministry and minestrone are etymologically brings together two loves of mine...

Over the winter I have re-discovered an old love, soup. There are many varieties of soup, some are more to my tastes than others. My favourite is pea and ham soup.

Peas, particularly mushy peas, are a great Yorkshire delicacy. In my family we even have mushy peas with Christmas dinner. I love it! I remember as a child one of my favourite meals was pie and peas. My mother would soak the peas the night before so that she could prepare the meal for all of us after she returned from work the next day. At the time I am sure I never really appreciated the loving effort that went into all of this, to provide for her family. Gratitude is something I’ve learned about later in life. It’s taken me a long time, too long actually, to understand that love is expressed in the simple acts we do for one another each and every day. In those simple acts the love that is God comes to life; when we give from our heart to another God's love is once again incarnated.

When I first read Robert Walsh’s meditation “In the soup” it made me smile broadly. I love the fact that minister and minestrone are etymologically linked. As I have written before I have a developing love of etymology, the history of words. It seems to me that often the original meaning of words is more interesting than their modern incarnation. I also reckon that we can trace our human development through understanding the journey that words have been on. For example I recently discovered that as I write this blog I am actually staring at two codpieces on my keyboard. For an explanation please check out the following link

While it is amusing to me to know that a bowl of soup and my work are etymologically linked can they actually be linked in function? Could they possibly be? Well maybe. Maybe they aren’t as different as they initially appear. After all both minestrone and ministry mean to serve.

Now of course it is not just the minister who ministers in church and chapel communities, all who congregate together do so to some degree or another. All bring something to the flavour, the substance and the spirit of the community. Everyone has different gifts and talents and by combining together a wholesome and tasty meal is created. No one ingredient is more important than the other and if one ingredient is missing, the meal just won’t work. It is the sum of all its parts that makes a spiritual community what is is. What the community create together they can then offer to the world outside of their window and by doing so they may well draw others to the community who can bring their own unique flavour to the minestrone.

I believe that is the point that the Epistle Paul was making in his first letter to the congregation at Corinth some 2,000 years ago (1 Corithians ch 12) . In his letter he is pointing out that each of member possesses special gifts and that no gift is superior to the other. These gifts are there for the good of the whole. The key it would appear was to combine their gifts and use them together so that they could then build the Beloved Community that they sought. Is this that different to Ministrone?

This brings to mind a story I first heard at primary school. It has stayed with me ever since. It must be a thousand years old and versions of it can be found in many cultures throughout the world.

This is the story of "Stone Soup"

"Once upon a time, in a remote village, a woman heard a knock on her door. She was surprised to find a traveller on her doorstep – visitors to her village were few and far between. The traveller had journeyed a long way, and he asked, very politely, for something to eat.
The woman replied sadly, ‘I’m sorry, I have nothing in the house right now.’

The traveller smiled. ‘Not to worry,’ he said. ‘I have a magical soup stone in my bag. If you will let me put it in a pot of boiling water, I’ll make the most delicious soup in the world.’

The woman did not really believe the traveller, but she thought she had nothing to lose, so she lit a fire, filled her largest pot with water, and started to heat it.

While it was warming up she popped next door and whispered to her neighbour about her visitor and his magical soup stone. The neighbour whispered the story to her other neighbours, and by the time the water started to boil the whole village was crowded into the woman’s kitchen.

While everyone stared, the stranger dropped the stone into the water. 

Then the stranger tasted a spoonful of soup and smacked his lips and cried out, ‘Ah, delicious!’ He paused for a moment, then added, ‘All it needs is some potatoes.’

‘I have some potatoes back in my kitchen,’ shouted the neighbour and quickly went back to her house. In a few minutes she was back with a huge pile of sliced potatoes. The traveller placed them into the pot. 

The traveller tasted again – ‘Ah, marvellous!’ he said. But then he added wistfully, ‘But if only we had some meat, this soup could become a really tasty stew.’

Another villager rushed home to bring the meat that she had been going to use for that night’s meal. The traveller accepted it with gratitude and added it to the pot.

Then he tasted it again: ‘Ah, most excellent. If we just had some vegetables it would be perfect, absolutely perfect.’ 

One of the neighbours dashed back to her house and returned with a mountain of carrots and onions. These were added and boiled for a few minutes.

Then he tasted again and called out: ‘Seasoning!’ which was quickly handed to him.

The stranger took a final taste and danced with glee. ‘Bowls and spoons for everyone!’ he shouted.

People rushed off to their homes to find bowls and spoons. Some even brought back bread, cheese and fruit.

Then they all sat down to a delicious meal. The traveller ladled out large helpings of his magical soup. Everyone felt happy as they sat down to the very first meal they had shared as a whole village.

In the middle of the meal the stranger slipped quietly away, leaving behind the magical soup stone, which they could use any time they wanted to make the most delicious soup in the world."

I love the stone soup story. Again it teaches about community about working together to create something wholesome and fulfilling; that the community is what each person brings to it. It brings to mind another story about soup. This story is from the Jewish tradition, although again there are versions of it in virtually every tradition throughout the world. Perhaps the best known is the Japanese version known as “chopsticks”.

"There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large circular table. In the centre of the table rested an enormous pot of soup, more than enough for everyone. The soup smelled delicious and the rabbi’s mouth began to water with anticipation. After awhile he noticed that no one was eating, they were trying, but not one could get the soup into their mouths. Each diner had a long-handled spoon, attached to their hands, that was long enough to reach the pot and scoop up some of the soup, but too long to get the soup into their mouths. On witnessing such suffering, the rabbi bowed his head in compassions.

“Now I will show you heaven”, said the Lord, and they entered another room that was identical to the first. It had the same round table and same pot of soup and the same long handled spoons. Yet the people in this other room were vastly different. They were full of the joys of life and they were well fed. The poor rabbi, just could not understand why and he looked to the Lord. The Lord answered “It is simple, but it requires a certain skill. You see the people in this room have learned to feed each other.”

Minestrone and ministry share the same root, they both mean to serve. It is the purpose  of communities like the ones that I to serve to be places where people practise serving one another. By doing so they create a meal, made up of so many ingredients, that can satisfy them all. It's more than that though, the meal is for everyone, the point is to serve it to world outside of the communities window. to see if they would like to taste what the community has to offer.this meal to those who would like to taste what they have to offer. 

One of my many roles as minister is to feed the congregation I serve through the worship we share, hopefully the meal is enough to satisfy them throughout the week and hopefully to some extent it inspires them to feed others who they come into contact with during their daily interactions. The feeding though should not be seen as a one way affair. They feed me too, in so many ways. Of all the truths I have learnt perhaps the greatest is that it is in giving that we receive. The Heaven and Hell story teaches this so well. In the very act of feeding another, we are fed ourselves. No one goes hungry we are all fulfilled, we are all fully filled.

If I have learnt anything about the spiritual life I have learnt that at its core are two basic principles, love and service. Surely the spiritual life is not just about serving ourselves, but one another. By doing so we feed one another's spirits. I have learnt that in that relationship, in that space we can experience the Love that is Divine.

Everyone thirsts and hungers even in our seemingly materially abundant lives. We cannot feed this hunger in isolation in self reliance it is only fed in that relationship that occurs as we feed one another. To me this is the purpose of religious communities like the ones I serve, living breathing fellowships of love. It is also my experience that it is in this space, in this relationship that occurs as we serve one another, that God is revealed that God is once again incarnated. By giving one to another we can know the love that is God.

We all hunger for purpose and meaning. As Viktor Frankl pointed out we are driven by a will to find meaning and purpose. I would go further and suggest that we are also driven to find companionship in our increasingly isolated and isolating culture. We need to serve one another, or our souls will starve. I have discovered and I keep on discovering that our deepest pangs are not satisfied by the food that is laid on the table but in the relationship that occurs as we feed one another and as we drink from one another’s cup. This is fellowship. This to me is the essence of a spiritual community.

As I wrote in my previous blog this is what I will be focusing on this Lent, to find ways to give of myself to others, instead of self serving; to give from my heart, to minister to world that I come into daily contact with. I commend this idea to you who read this, your world needs it too. It needs you to add your own flavour and your own substance to the soup that is life, by doing so you may well inspire others to add theirs.

Remember the stone soup story. The stranger brought the gift of the stone and through it, through awakening their intrigue, he inspired others to bring what gifts they had to offer. And guess what by doing so they all ate and they were all filled and they developed a community of love that they could all benefit from. For me this is the point of the spiritual life, for everyone to bring their stones and inspire others to bring their gifts to the table and join together and begin to create the Commonwealth of Love, right here right now.

Remember we are all in the soup together, so bring your substance and your flavour to the pot and lets create a meal that fully fill us all. We can all be fulfilled.

From you I receive, to you I give, together we share and from this we live. 

If you click on the link below you can view a service of worship which was created from the ideas explored in this blogspot....


  1. Dear Danny:
    Well said!
    While I know the stories of "Stone Soup" and "Heaven and Hell" very well, you brought the flavor of Community out like a Great Chef.

  2. Thank you Richard...I always appreciate your loving encouragement...Also love youyr way with words

  3. Hi Danny, thanks for sending to me-community is at the heart of my thoughts presently, especially around where I will shortly move (as yet unknown)...I will remember to take my soup stone & how to feed my neighbour though. Ann

  4. That's wishes where life may take you Ann