Rabbi Lionel Blue
My all-time favourite holy man is Jewish - Rabbi Lionel Blue, famous for Thought for the Day, author, entertainer and Convenor of the Beth Din of Reform Synagogues in Great Britain.
I can never quite decide where to keep his books - of which I have several - in the "religious" section in my study or in the kitchen? This is because most of them mix eating, drinking and cooking with spirituality. Blue loves food and believes that people who sit down and eat together - of whatever faith or none - end up understanding one another better.
As a man who once toyed with Christianity, he is able to sympathise with his Christian friends and neighbours: he speaks of realising that a meal was at the centre of the Christian faith, i.e. the Eucharist, and obviously feels we should do more eating!
All his recipes for feeding body and soul come with an anecdote – kitchen table theology, if you will - often stories of his immigrant grandmothers: he writes, "My bubbe's kitchen... was a chapel and a vestry..." I particularly like the story of his Russian granny going round poking little parcels of food through peoples' letter-boxes for the Sabbath - she knew they were needy but also proud. "Occasionally," Blue recalls, "we met other bubbes wrapped in shawls and shadows waddling from house to house."
The Rabbi is wise as only those truly in touch with their own humanity are wise and I love his humorous, but compassionate, insights into the way people tick, but he is also totally honest about his own frailties, admitting to bouts of depression, doubt and anxiety. He pokes fun only at "religious" people who are unable to laugh at themselves. Blue's God has a fine sense of humour and of the ridiculous and is infinitely more forgiving than we are. I have never met this man, but I love him and admire him.
The story quoted above is from A Taste of Heaven by Lionel Blue & June Rose, a wonderful explanation of how different faiths celebrate. It's probably out of print, but worth looking out for a second-hand copy. I can particularly recommend Blue's recipe for Pashka - an Orthodox speciality for Easter Day -delicious!