“Home sweet home.”
J H Payne, Title of a song from “Clari” or “The Maid of Milan”, an opera from 1823
As far as I’m aware, the term “But and Ben” is peculiar to Scotland. A “But and Ben” is a basic two-roomed cottage common over many centuries. From its beginnings in the older “Blackhouse” with its compacted earth floor, peat walls and bracken-thatched roof, to the more modern stone-built croft dwellings, a “But and Ben” had an “outer room” which usually housed the animals, and an “inner room” in which the family lived. As configurations and needs changed, the outer room (the “But”) would be a working area such as a kitchen, and the inner room (the “Ben”) would be the part in which people ate, slept and shared family life.
Clever people tell me But comes from Early Scots or Middle English and means “bouten” or “outside”, while Ben is derived from “binnen” or “inside”. Neither bouten nor binnen has survived into common usage. However …
When I was young and stayed often with my granny, I heard words that I never heard my parents use. I don’t mean sweary words. Heaven forbid! But I do mean old Scots words. One of these was ben. I knew a “ben” was a mountain – like Ben Nevis. But ben was used by my granny in a different way. She would invite any visitor “ben the hoose”. “Come in,” she was saying, “to my house. Welcome! Don’t stay here in the outside part. But come into the inside, the living area, the family part. Come ‘ben the hoose’, into the warmth and welcome of my home.” It was honest hospitality. There was no “but”, no exclusion, no keeping people in the “outer” part. Instead, there was openness, welcome, hospitality for all who needed it. “Ben the hoose” mattered if people were to feel at home.
Are there ways in which we can invite people “ben the hoose” today? Locally? Nationally? Churches? Refugees? Strangers? Those who feel alienated? People who’ve made mistakes? Anyone who needs to be loved? There’s a “but” and there’s a “ben” in the lives of all of us. So in unconditional hospitality and welcome, let’s put aside the “buts”, when more and more people need to be “ben the hoose” with you and me.
A prayer for today
Loving God, when we put our “but” in the way of hospitality and welcome,
help us to think of what we would feel like if we were excluded. Amen
An original reflection by © Tom Gordon