Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can Thanksgiving Be More Like Babette’s Feast?

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

I was reminded today of one of my favorite films, Babette’s Feast, the 1987 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. This wonderful movie tells the story of two sisters living in a small village on the Danish coast in the 19th century. Their father was a protestant minister who established the community with strict ascetic values. The sisters refused suitors in their youth and now are middle-aged and approaching spinsterhood. One day, Babette comes to them, a political refugee from Paris, and becomes their housekeeper and cook. For fourteen years, Babette serves them their austere diet of fish and porridge until she suddenly wins the lottery. Before returning to France, she decides to make the sisters and the other members of their aging dwindling community a lavish feast of French gourmet food the likes of which they have never seen. The entire last half of the film is spent lingering over the preparation and partaking of this meal in luxurious detail. Each ingredient used by Babette is included with love for those who took her in and each bite taken is savored by her guests.

This morning I heard New York Times film critic A. O. Scott’s thoughts on the film and couldn’t help but think of Thanksgiving. He says, “The brilliant thing about this movie and why it is so moving and so satisfying and so fulfilling is that it shows that this religious asceticism and the sensuality are really expressions of the same impulse, which is an impulse of love, generosity and spiritual fulfillment.” That sounds to me like what our day of Thanksgiving should be.

The film works on many levels, because it reveals the deep love the characters have for one another in the small everyday things they do for one another. In our culture that seems hell-bent on convincing us that to show someone you love them you must simply buy them a more expensive present, it has become radical to give the gift of your presence to those you care about—by presence I mean not only physical presence but attentiveness to them and what makes them special. In a culture that offers us an overload of sensation, ironically our senses become dulled to the miracles of love and relationship around us. With our senses dulled in this way, could we even enjoy a feast like Babette’s if it was put before us?

This Thanksgiving I pray that you will be open to God’s spiritual state of being that allows you to savor your Thanksgiving dinner—be it a traditional spread or something more humble—and to savor the loving relationships in your life.

Grace and Peace,


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