There was an evening last week when I found myself home alone... a rare event at night... and looking through the many channels to see if there was "anything good". I suddenly stopped on one of the classic movie channels for there was Babette's Feast. It was already half over but the second half is my favorite, anyway.
Once again I watched with a sense of anticipation, awe, and the occasional tear. It was good to be alone with Florentine sound asleep on my lap, she didn't care if I cried at movies. For this slow moving Danish film with English subtitles takes my breath away every time I watch it.
I don't think there is any other film, at least not one I have seen, which shows the affect of Beauty on the soul which has gone cold. In the first half of the film, we are told the story of when the sisters were young and the sacrifices they made to stay with their father and the community.
We then watch as the sisters take in the barely alive Babette after her husband and son had been killed in Paris. The religious community that the sister's father had begun now consisted of mostly middle aged people, who in the effort to remain pious have lost their joy and what is worse... their desire for Beauty.
Babette slowly enhances their days with little things like asking for good quality food when she makes purchases, forages for herbs to add flavor to their simple meals, and performs little tasks like washing the windows to let the sunshine come through.
When Babette wins the lottery (a friend purchases one ticket for her each year), she decides to use the money to create one amazing feast for the few remaining in the community. For you see, what the community does not know even after all of these years is that Babette was a highly skilled French chef.
She not only purchases food, wine, etc. but she buys those items which will make the table beautiful. From silver, to fine china, to crystal... the table is as exquisite as her food. Babette understands that a true feast is a marriage of what is experienced in both taste and sight. The table itself is a beautiful work of Art to provide a place for fellowship and delicious food.
Of course, if this is just the story of a dinner then it would not be anything special. But in the second half of the film, as we watch Babette cook and the now elderly members of the community dine as they never have before... we see what true Beauty does to the parched soul. Okay, a lot of wine doesn't hurt, either.
The story brilliantly includes a visiting general, one who as a young man, had dined in the restaurant where Babette was once the chef and who recognizes the artful skill of the cooking as well as the quality of everything being served.
We view how the lovely feast brings about transformation... and love... and grace... as those whose soul had grown cold now come alive with joy.
If you know the story, the sisters assume Babette will be leaving them after the meal to return to Paris. She then stuns them with the news that the feast cost all that she had won. She would spend the rest of her days with the sisters. There was no one at home for her anymore and she was happy. For it brought her joy not only to prepare the feast for them but to once again perform her art.
I believe it was a "God thing" that I was able to watch this film the same week I was rereading Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer on the Kindle. The book is Schaeffer's famous argument for Beauty in the life of a Christian. He shows the reader that the Bible is full of God's use of art and reminds us that we are indeed created in the image of One who creates.
As a balance to the more theological argument, it was Edith Schaeffer who often reminded us that true Art is not only found in museums or the concert hall. In the book Hidden Art of Homemaking, she spends a great deal of time talking about the art in preparing meals and the small ways one can bring Beauty into their life through the making of a home.
I was thinking of the film a lot after watching it and how the first time I had seen it was when I was much younger. I found it easy then to include art in my life. As we grow older and experience more of the difficulties life has to offer, it can be easy to set aside that little extra required to make life lovely.
Our soul may not have grown cold like those who sat down to feast with great apprehension... or maybe it has. Perhaps there is a need for Beauty long forgotten. It could be that we feel we are in Narnia when it was always winter and never Christmas. Maybe we need a feast of our own.
I have come to realize that it is no mistake God tells us we will come together for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb upon His second advent. He who cooked a fish breakfast by the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection seems to know a thing or two about our need for food and fellowship.
May we grow each day in His grace and never let go of the truth that He created us to make Art. To live Art. When we do, just like Babette, we are not only bringing grace to others but also to ourselves.
Mentioned in this Post
Babette's Feast film... here.
Art and the Bible... here.
The Hidden Art of Homemaking... here.
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