Our impulse to beat ourselves up in order to find God dies hard.
The wonderful film “Babette’s Feast” tenderly and playfully challenges Christendom’s assumption that self-denial cuts a path to spirituality. The story takes place on the desolate coast of Denmark in the late 1700’s. Martina and Philippa are the two beautiful daughters of a devout clergyman who prior to his death preached salvation through austerity. Both girls sacrifice their youthful passions, marriage and family to carry on their father’s legacy. Now years later, they still manage to keep alive his version of faithfulness among the townspeople.
Then one stormy night Babette, a refugee from France’s civil war finds her way to their doorstep. She is weak and frightened, and the sisters quickly bring her in. For room and board Babette agrees to cook and care for the house. The sisters draw up rules about what they should eat and how it should be prepared – bland fish and potatoes without seasoning. Babette faithfully complies. Years pass.
Then one day Babette learns that she has won a French lottery. Her winnings would give her full independence. But instead of leaving her new home Babette asks permission to prepare a gift of gratitude for her village – a gourmet French meal! Babette, it turns out, had been one of the most renowned chefs in Paris.
In the end her friends accept her gift and come to see, reluctantly perhaps, that God has created all good things for our enjoyment.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” says the Psalmist (Psalm 34).