Remembering Babette’s Feast
Beauty and the Practice of Gratitude and Delight
But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies will throw a feast for all the people of the world, a feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines, a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
— Isaiah 25:6
Recently I once again viewed the late 80’s Danish film Babette’s Feast. The work is a film adaptation of a short story written in the late 1950’s by the Danish author Karen Blixen. Subtitled, a bit slow at first, and purposely stark, the film is a glimpse into the lives of two elderly and pious Protestant sisters. Martine and Philippa live in a tiny 19th-century village in a remote area of Denmark. Entering the winter of life, the sisters have been living out the spiritual legacy of their now deceased Pietistic father who founded and lead the village gathering of lay people years earlier. The sisters now preside over the aging and diminutive assembly of believers.
The Ugliness of a Small God
Their father’s legacy has left its shadowed presence full of austerity and self-denial as it has kept the sisters from seeking marriage and the town from finding new converts. The father’s theological lens was, unfortunately, one bereft of beauty, gratitude, and delight. Now in their early 70’s, the aging siblings preside over a dwindling group of aging ascetic believers that regard each other as bothersome, petty, and hurtful and their lives as empty of blessing and beauty. It is a community void of gratitude and joy.
In the opening moments, the film flashes back some nearly 50 years to when the women were young and vivacious with many suitors. Declining offers of marriage, Martine and Philippa choose instead to walk the narrowly defined spiritual path their father handed down to them and the community spurning a life of love, romance, and family.
Enter the Maker of the Feast
Flash-forward to the sister’s current lives as the story’s protagonist enters. Babette, a refugee from a Parisian revolutionary uprising comes to the village and the two sisters via a reference from one of the sister’s former suitors. With little money and weakened from age, the women are in need of help. The elderly sisters take in Babette whose former vocation is that of a chef. For the next 14 years, Babette remains as the cook and housekeeper for the two offering up new and improved versions of the sister’s bland diet and life. Slowly Babette gains respect from the women and the town. They have no idea she is a renowned Parisian chef who served kings and queens.Unbeknownst to the sisters, Babette has had a friend entering her name in the Paris lottery since her arrival. One day to her surprise she wins the lottery and its prize of 10,000 francs.
Is This the Christ?
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. – John 10:17-18
Babette now has a dilemma. What should she do with her life given this bounty of cash? Should she return to Paris and live the good life free of struggle and toil? Babette decides that she has lived a better life amongst these people. The thought of returning to Paris does not seem right somehow. She has learned to love these stoic almost joyless people out of her service. Without the sisters and the town knowing, Babette takes the money and decides to use it all to serve up one delicious meal to the village. Remember now these people have only known the austerity and paucity of a supposedly holy poverty. This meal, according to Babette’s plan, would be exactly like the grand meals she offered to the Parisian aristocrats in her former life. The main course, the wine, the fruit, the bread, and pastries would be exactly like the elite would be offered and served. No extravagance would be spared as she had 10,000 francs to create this one-time exquisite meal. It was in some ways her culinary magnum opus.
The Lavish Meal Served with Exquisite Beauty
For Babette, this feast was much more than just a meal. It was her grateful response to the decades of kindness these two sisters had offered her over the years. So Babette decides she is going to spend the entire lottery on a meal of beautiful proportions. The community has no idea of what they are about to partake.
The final scenes of the film are deeply moving as we observe the town’s people who just hours before held grievances and resentments now partake of the meal with visible mutual delight and even vocalized gratitude. Babette has offered up a feast that is so beyond anything their taste buds have ever experienced or even imagined. The meal uncovers a sense of delight and pleasure they had for years deemed dangerous, worldly, or frivolous. And oddly enough, the tasting births a deep and profound sense of gratitude in each dinner guest.
Before this feast, their small stories alienated each other from friendship and closeness. They had no sense of belonging or connection. They had no shared sense of the beauty and wonder of human delight. But now, through this unrequested gift of the feast, something worth loving in each other is recognized, shared, and made alive in word and presence. They smile at each, touch each other lovingly, offering up the grace that flows from gratitude.
For at least an evening, the suffering and poisonous offense towards each other vanishes as the meal allows them to experience the moment together. In this seemingly timeless setting there indeed seems to be an unlimited supply of unconditional love for one another. This awareness of their commonality and mutual need of beauty and its sightings is a revelation. This was not merely new to them. This was unimaginable to them. It took beauty to create a presence, an opening of sorts, where their deepest desires and humanity were not merely existing but flourishing. They discovered serendipitously that redemption awaited them in this gift of the feast.
Making the Invite
Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.” — Luke 14:13-14
How often in life do we assume the universe has shrunk, God has left the premises, and all the delights that abound for others do not even exist for us? This destroys our sense of gratitude.
But when we are reunited through prayer and worship with the bountiful table of the Trinity, we discover the unlimited sustenance that is in the very nature of the Creator. Now our former “I demand” turns to “thank you” and “bless you.”
In and through Babette’s feast something happened to the faltering faith of this tiny village. Through this extravagant meal, a rebirth took place that was rooted in the sufficiency of the Father and sheer beauty of creation and the mind of God made manifest. These pious frauds, which we can all relate to on some level, were made beautifully authentic as they encountered the One “from whom all blessings flow.” Out of this place gratitude naturally leads to worship for the beauty of worship is birthed in the delight.
Serving up the Feast through Worship
Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; but they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, nor do they consider the work of His hands. — Isaiah 5:12
Might worship leaders be heaven’s chefs? Might our gatherings be the place we experience an outpouring of the Father’s most beautiful and delightful thoughts He has towards us? Does this feast manifest itself in a metaphoric meal for which our soul desperately hungers? Do we discover in worship settings we are loved when we come expecting a feast? For it is in this place of divine outpouring that we realize the grace for which we long is bountiful and tastes so sweet to the soul.
When Praise is Natural and True
In worship, Christ’s table is set and a beautiful meal is being continually offered. This meal is one of delight and beauty. Its nourishment builds up in us the awareness we are covered by grace and sustained by love. When we sit in this revelation our souls are fed and praises naturally flow from our mouths. These are testimonials to the extravagance served up in the redemptive feast of our Lord.
Like Christ, Babette had a choice. She chose to stay and offer up her most profound gifts and talents as a beautiful feast, an offering of love for the small village. In the partaking of her culinary creation, each person at the table realized for the first time, they were made for this kind of delight. Their body and soul were made to hunger after beauty.
About the Artist
Rosemarie Adcock works primarily in oil, and often in monumental format. She studied in both the United States and Germany. To see more work, and works in progress, see www.RosemarieAdcock.com
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David Bunker, along with being WL's guest editor, is a poet and teacher, spiritual director and resident muse for artists who are part of the Museville Collective. He is also adjunct faculty at Visible Music College & Judson University in the music and worship arts departments.