The writer Karen Blixen, otherwise known as Isak Dinesen, wrote a short story that in the early 80s was turned into an amazing film called Babette’s Feast.

The setting is Norre Vosberg, a remote fishing village on the Jutland of Denmark.  It’s a dour little place, all smoke and stone and drizzle and thatch, hunkered down in the mud.  It is surrounded by cliffs and rise sheer and menacing above the North Sea.

Norre Vosberg began as a strict religious sect, and over the years has become in-grown and rigid.  The aging founder of the sect has two daughters, Martine and Philippa, and after his death they carried on his religious vision.

But they lack his sternness and his fire, and the community splinters and ossifies like an old bone.

The remaining members meet on the Sabbath, and sing about grace, and preach about grace.  They just never taste grace.  They never extend it.

One night, a woman staggers to Martine’s and Philippa’s door seeking shelter.  She has been sent from Paris by an old friend of their father.  Her name is Babette.

Babette’s husband and son have been killed in the French Revolution, and she is in danger and needs a place of refuge.  She offers to do anything if they will only let her stay.  Reluctantly, they agree.

They will let her cook and clean, without pay.

The sisters teach Babette to prepare their daily meal: boiled cod and a stiff tasteless gruel made from water and bread.

One day—twelve years later, Babette gets a letter.  Her friends in Paris have every year entered her number in the French lottery, and she’s won!  Ten thousand francs.  Babette tells Martine and Philippa, and they congratulate her, but they’re sad.  They have come in their prim and aloof way to love Babette.  Now they are sure she will leave them.

That evening, Babette asks them for a favor.

She has never, she reminds them, asked them for anything since the night she arrived.  But now she has one request.  Yes?  The sisters are getting ready for the hundredth anniversary celebration of the founding of the religious sect.

Can Babette prepare a French meal for the anniversary?

The sisters are surprised, taken aback…speechless, but they agree.

Then the ships start to arrive.  Burly seaman haul up armloads of exotic things…vats of crab and lobster and great bulgy—eyed fish, crates with pheasant and quail, baskets brimful with dervish of activity—her little a riot of steaming pots and sizzling pans.

The townsfolk grow more and more alarmed.  Martine and Philippa conspire with the last and ancient 11 members of the sect that whatever Babette prepares, they will endure and eat without comment.

The evening arrives, and with it a surprise visitor.  The nephew of one of the sect members, General Loewenhielm, a world-renowned and world-traveled man.

The feast begins and everyone from the religious sect eat it without expression, not a word passing between them.

But the General extols with every sip of wine and every morsel of food!

When Babe the Bay Quail prepared en Sarcophage is served, he announces that there is only one time in his life that he has seen that dish: the famous Cafe Anglais in Paris, where once a woman chef had wowed the world.

Finally, General Loewenhielm is so transported by the meal that he stands and makes a speech:

We have all been told that grace is to be found in the universe, but in our foolishness and shortsightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite… But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite.  Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and knowledge it in gratitude.

Something miraculous happens then . . . the little group of men and women, bent and hardened by their bitterness, comes to life.

They start to laugh, two people who have not spoken in years, speak and embrace.  A man confesses a sin he’s hidden for decades.  Then they all go outside, and hold hands, and sing the old songs of grace like they mean them.

The film ends with Babette sitting in the kitchen, among the mess and clutter, weary and dreamy.

“It was quite a nice dinner, Babette,” Martine says, awkward.

Babette doesn’t seem to hear.

“I was once a cook,” Babette finally says, “At the Cafe Anglais.”

“We will remember this evening when you have gone back to Paris,” Martine says.

“I’m not going back,” Babette says.

“But what about the ten thousand francs?”

Babette looks at the two sisters, “I spent it.”  She says.  “On this feast.”

The sisters are stunned and stricken.

“Don’t be shocked.”  Babette says.

“This is what a proper dinner for twelve costs at the Cafe Anglais.”

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble…

… they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!..

Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders…

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

~Psalm 107 ESV


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