I would have to say that Babette’s Feast is one of my favorite movies. In one of my classes I wrote about how the inward Christ was manifested through the various people in the film. The reflection below (and the movie) raised two queries for me: How do I experience others’ manifestations of the inward Christ? How do I outwardly express the inward Christ?
As I reflect on the movie Babette’s Feast I am struck by the various ways people were Christ for each other in the film. When Pepin coaxed an operatic voice from Philippa it was an image of God drawing out the gifts we have and helping us hone them. When Martina and Philippa first met Babette they were Christ to her, giving her a place to stay. Babette was Christ in her years of service and in the sacrificial giving of the feast. The feast itself was of course a metaphor for Communion, and in a real way the film expressed the presence of God through the laden table. General Loewenhielm understood exactly what went into the feast, and was able to truly appreciate the feast because of that understanding. Loewenhielm also spoke prophetically as the voice of Christ. Philippa’s words to Babette at the end of the film that acknowledged the spirit the gift was given in was an acknowledgment of Christ in Babette and a sharing of the Christ within Philippa.
The main image of God shown in this film is the image of God as the generous giver. Acts of generosity fill this movie with glowing images. When Pepin hears the singing of Philippa and offers to train her voice, he displays generosity in giving of his time. That generosity led to love, unfulfilled love, but love none the less. That love brought a gift into its full development. This aspect of God is one I am very familiar with. It is my experience that God gifts us and as we develop them, we are called to share those gifts and help others develop their own gifting. This abundant overflowing of gifting from God that prepares us to give to others is one of my favorite things about God, that we never receive just enough, but enough to share.
Pepin’s gift led directly to an opportunity for Philippa and Martina to give. From the beginning of the film both girls display a generous spirit that constantly gives in service. First they gave sacrificially to their father, it is implied that this giving is voluntary by Philippa’s ending of the lessons, then to the people of their community. When Babette shows up, they are already in the practice of giving, so it was not overly difficult to give a place to the widowed refugee that showed up on their doorstep with a letter from Pepin.
Babette is, in my opinion, the main Christ figure in the movie. First we have her serving and creating an atmosphere in which the sisters are freer to minister and she herself is able to learn the language and become an integral part of the community. Then we see after her years of service in which she receives no payment other than room and board she still has a desire to give to the sisters an even greater gift. How deep a part of the community Babette has become, is shown by the fear of loss that the community shows when she wins the lottery and offers to put on the celebratory meal for the deceased founder of the church’s 100th birthday. As someone who has been “The Church Cook” in the past, it is amazing how quickly that role of service intertwines you with the life of a community. In sharing food, we join in the body building communion of Christ, and act as Christ did in sharing himself as our eternal sustenance.
I think that I am going to add a chapter about Babette’s Feast to the book I am writing about a theology of community centered on the kitchen and the table. The feast that Babette prepares is a feast of communion that, by its generosity and care, cannot help but bring any who partake into the presence of the loving God who infuses the meal. In a very real way this movie paints a scene that hearkens back to the “love feasts” of primitive Christianity in which a joyous meal was shared. That the meals could be viewed as true feasts is reflected in the exhortations Paul makes to not be gluttons and make sure everybody has gotten food. The meal prepared by Babette is a true communion because of its sacrificial nature and the love and care that went into the preparation.
The next person to take the role of Christ in the film is General Loewenhielm. Up until the meal he really didn’t get it, but after the meal his eyes were opened, and he spoke with prophetic insight into the community with a deep love. That prophetic insight was Christ speaking through the General to his gathered body in that room. “Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude… that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly.” In my life grace has appeared at the strangest times, many times in ways I was not prepared to receive it. God saw below the surface of my turmoil to the need within and met me there.
At the end of the movie the sisters go into the kitchen and find an exhausted Babette who appears to be in turmoil. She explains that she will not be returning to Paris, and that she has no money that all of it was spent on the dinner. At this point Philippa, another artist, is Christ to Babette. She holds Babette close and tells her that she will practice her art again in heaven and that her cooking would “enchant the angels.” Philippa gave up the chance to perform the art of song and understood at that moment the fullness of the loss that Babette was experiencing. She saw that in Babette’s mind that may have been the last great feast that she would prepare. It was right then that her heart was broken by God for her, now finally acknowledged, dear sister Babette.
Babette is the character I relate to the most in this film. As a chef I understand the artistry and sacrifice that goes into grand meals, and the tyranny of continuous hard deadlines that is involved in running a commercial kitchen. As someone who has lived under the threat of death and had to flee my home I relate to what it is like to flee looking over my shoulder. I can only hope that God continues to replenish my hospitality and generosity from the source.
May the most generous giver overflow me with grace that it may spill out abundantly.
 (Dinesen, 1988, p. 40)