Delia Smith’s Lenten Programme

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 22, 2009 | Categories: Celebrities, Faith

Wondering why English food was so awful in the 1960s set Delia Smith off on a quest to learn about it and educate people in how to cook their traditional dishes, a mission that, for the past 33 years, has made her Britain’s favorite cook.     Her first book was How to Cheat at Cooking (1971) and the following year she started writing a column in the Evening Standard. From the start, hers has been a practical and inspirational approach to cooking healthy, delicious food. delia-smith-no.jpg

Delia Smith, 67,  is also known for her spiritual books. Her first two religious books, A Feast for Lent and A Feast for Advent (both published in 1983), are readings and reflections for these seasons. In 1988 Delia took on the much larger challenge of   writing a full-length book on prayer, A Journey into God.

Faith has been part of Delia’s life from childhood. “My mother would put me to bed too early, when I could hear that all the other children were still up, so I was awake and bored. One night, she gave me a picture of Jesus with the children of the world, and taught me to say the Our Father. That is when I started with silence and stillness–there was this need in me even then for the spirit.” When she was 22, she became a Catholic after being taken to Mass by a friend.

Each day, as well as attending Mass, Delia carves out a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour in the late afternoon for absolute quiet. “We all have a need sometimes to be by ourselves and be still. I know that making that sort of commitment can be very difficult, so what I suggest is that you build it up gradually, over years. Start with 20 minutes a day. How do you know when 20 minutes has passed? The simplest way is a kitchen timer!”

Her new venture with Cafod (the official overseas development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales), all started with an interview last year on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Her latest book, Delia’s How to Cheat on Cooking, had just come out and she was doing an interview to promote it.

“Answering one of their questions, I admitted I was confused about the ethics of food miles and planet warming and carbon emissions. I said that I had stopped buying vegetables that had travelled long distance, but then I had started worrying about what was happening to growers in places like Kenya if there was no longer any overseas markets for their produce.”

Her on-air confession that she didn’t have an answer to this dilemma made headlines in the national press, but also promoted a call to her office from Cafod, offering to guide her through their research on this sensitive issue. From that call a relationship blossomed. “Cafod contacted me,” Delia explains, “and said they had some scientists who were experts on the question of food miles, so I went  and spent a day at the Cafod offices and had a very productive time.”

This meeting led her to offer her services to the charity. Cafod came back with a suggestion that she lead their Lenten programme, which she accepted. “I wasn’t at all sure about it,” she admits. “There wasn’t going to be much space on the website to explain what I felt, and with anything having to do with religion you run the risk of being misunderstood. But you have to think what being is a Christian is all about. And if we think being misunderstood is bad, what is that next to what happened to Christ? If there is a reason why I have agreed to do this, it’s because he did it. He coped with ridicule and misunderstanding every day.”

The theme of her Lenten programme is not Kenyan beans, or even the development issues usually associated with Cafod and its work of supporting people in need around the globe. It is something more specifically spiritual and revealing of Delia’s own approach to faith.   On the charity’s website she is urging the benefits of making a daily commitment to stillness and silence. “Lent is the perfect time to make a commitment to spending serious one-to-one time in God’s presence,” she wrote in her introductory reflection.

“As I have got older I have become more aware of the simplicity of our faith,” comments Delia on her motivation for proposing this Lenten exercise. “If Jesus has said, ‘there’s only one thing needed,’ we cannot grow as Christians without incorporating that ‘one thing’ into our daily lives and take his words utterly seriously.”

“Throughout the gospels Jesus spends time alone, away from the pressures of life to be ‘with’ his Father. How can any of   his followers not understand their own need for this, faced with the challenges of life today?”

Delia quotes the example of Jesus’ visit to the sisters Martha and Mary. Martha (who sounds like a Delia type of person) is busy making supper and doing housework, while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, hanging on to his every word. But when Martha gets annoyed and tells her sister to help her, Jesus tells her to stop fussing. “You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed–indeed, only one.” That “one thing” Delia believes, is silence and in it, openness to God.

The idea of silent contemplation seems to be having something of a resurgence,  including the rising numbers of people called to a monastic lifestyle. Delia thinks that economic crisis may have something to do with it, in the sense that material plenty tends to equate with spiritual poverty, and vice versa. “I think there may be an opening to God right now because the pressures people are under with this recession.   They may be realising   that materialism can never make you happy in the end.”

Many advocates of silence insist on the need to go much further…to banish worldly thoughts and concerns and find an inner voice. Delia doesn’t agree. “My mind is still making up recipes when I’m silent,” she admits, “but that doesn’t matter. Sister Wendy (Beckett),  always tells me that God created our minds to think. We can’t just switch them on and off when we want to. You just have to trust in God that he will be the instigator. He will enable. That’s an important word. Enable. It is a kind of blind trust.”

Delia is contemplating writing more about religion. The attacks by atheists have irked her, in particularly what she sees as their “stupidity” in stating categorically that there isn’t a God. “Their behaviour always makes me think of two ants in a crack in the pavement in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. One asks the other ‘Do you believe in architecture?’ and the other says, ‘No, I don’t.'”

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