Barbara Kingsolver Meets St. Benedict Creating a Rule of Life for Yourself and Your Family

I wipe the grease from my hands, pop the last of my daughter’s Chick-fil-a nuggets into my mouth and open up to my recent read, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. This book is a memoir of Kingsolver’s family as they set out to eat only foods produced in their own county of Southern Appalachia for a full year. I confess the first time I heard the concept it sounded both boring and baffling. Why would would someone go to the trouble let alone write a book about it?

Kingsolver responds with a decent answer,

“We were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values. . .”

She goes on to explain these values as, “love they neighbor,” and “not wreck every blooming thing on the planet,” along with the deeper desire to foster patience and restraint in herself and her family.

It was beginning to sound interesting. Not only that it sounded familiar.

A year or so ago when I first began this reading group we tackled, The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago by, you guessed it, St. Benedict.  I don’t know if Kingsolver would put it this way, but like Benedict she had also set out to create a Rule of Life.

Barbara Kingsolver Meets St. Benedict. Creating a Rule of Life

If you aren’t familiar with it, a Rule of Life may sound domineering, but “rule” here as more to do with one of those wooden sticks that teachers use to swat the hands of unruly children than it does with laws or dictators.  Creating a Rule is about setting a standard by which you can measure progress.

We all do this naturally to some degree. Somewhere in us we have a set of values and everyday we make decisions that are either true to those values or not.  Some of our deepest frustrations, whether we realize it or not, come when our actions are inconsistent with what we believe.  When we can’t mange to act according to our rules the tyranny of life gets the best of us and we find ourselves reacting rather than living intentionally.

While Benedict’s Rule didn’t talk about local food he does include guidelines on meals and fasting and even specifics on how much wine a monk should drink.  After all, Our relationship with food is deeply embedded in our Christian history. Sin entered the world when Eve ate the forbidden apple. At Passover the Jews slaughtered and ate a lamb. Animal and grain sacrifices were integral in the worship of God. Jesus spent His final hours with his disciples eating a meal and we continue to receive Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Food is our most basic means of interacting with God’s Creation.

Benedict doesn’t talk about local food because he doesn’t have to.  In his day nearly all foods were already local. Only recently has technology developed that has made it cost effective for us to eat apples from Argentina and lambs from New Zealand.  But this access to exotic food comes at a cost.  When we eat foods without knowing their history we make room for abuse of farm workers and child labor.  Our disconnect allows for the heavy use of hazardous chemicals in food production.   When we allow processed foods to become part of our routine (ahem Chick-fil-a play-date every Friday) we consume empty calories which, in part, has lead to epic rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer in our nation.  The easiest way to combat all of this is to know the history of our food, to buy local and cook for ourselves.

All of a sudden Kingsolver’s book doesn’t seem so odd. We find her and St. Benedict telling us the same story. That values without action are meaningless and that most of us need a plan to get us to where we want to go. 

Establishing a Rule of Life is something that anyone can do.  It simply requires sitting down and reflecting on our values  and then setting standards to keep our lives consistent with them.  (If this sounds like something you want to do check out this simple resource guide. P.S. this is a ministry  created by my husband, and is a resource we use everyday in our family we hope it will be helpful in yours).  And maybe the hardest part in all of this is that it might just lead us to eat a little less Chick-fil-a.
This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We would love for you to join us.


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Choosing the Path of Life: Thoughts on St Benedict








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