Food, glorious food.
I first read Isak Dineson’s short story Babbette’s Feast (found in Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard) when an old boyfriend gave me a copy while I was going to graduate school in Abilene, TX. Babette, a widowed victim of the French Civil War, comes to Denmark to work for two religiously prudish sisters. Babette gives the sisters 14 years of devotion and servitude, helping them aid the poor and elderly. She eventually wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery, and instead getting the heck out of dodge, Babette decides she will give the town people a gift of gluttonous eating and drinking.
But Babette sees her meal as a celebration of God and life. Why wait to get to Heaven to experience joy? Why hold on to wealth or old traditions if one cannot even enjoy the nourishment of the soul? And hey, who ever thought of food being so godly? Well, God evidently does. References of God’s people meeting around a table to chow down are found all throughout the Bible. There are banquet themes and a literary genre employed by most of the writers, some even going into great detail to help us understand the holidays and celebrations. There is a reason for that. I propose that it is purposefully done in order to encourage a “eucharistic lifestyle.”
The eucharist (Lord’s Supper) is the Catholic name given to idea that Jesus Christ is truly present while we partake of the bread and wine. But…Jesus is always with us, you say? Why would the bread and wine bring about his presence? Consider the friendship ethic that Jesus brought about through his lifestyle! What more can we gain from the Real Presence on the road to Emmaus than just a meal together? It is God with us. It is that the significance of meal time is not only true, but VITAL to our existence relationally and as a people of God.
Speaking of meal times...my Nana makes everyone’s favourite pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas. That sounds like a feat in itself, but consider that my Nana has 6 children, all of which have at least three grown kids of their own plus their own babies. AND most of her grandkids have babies! Yeah, you may be 2 years old, but if she finds out what pie you like, it’ll be there. Maybe twice. The last time we had a major eating holiday at her place my cousin Ryan and I counted over 30-something pies. But here’s the thing - she doesn’t just like to cook; she likes us. She has an overwhelming love for her family that motivates her to stock her cupboards with sugar, flour, eggs, and every pie filling known to man. Oh some write love letters, send cards, or express themselves in hugs and kisses. My Nana crams food down everyone she loves.
Upon another recent reading of Babette’s Feast (and yes, there is also a movie) I remembered why it was so important for me to ask people over for meals and prepare something that would satisfy them. It can take everything out of a person to prepare a meal and you can really throw yourself into it when you love the people you are serving. Babette had a lot to give because a lot was given to her. Her meal was a quiet celebration of the divine grace that meets us at every turn, even redeems us. If this is so, it really makes me want to serve God more while on this earth. Even though I know I’ll be there, I would hate to sit at the wedding feast undeservedly.
In short, not so über-theological, and not with any disrespect to the supper He encourages us to take together….but bread and wine aren’t the only foods that bring about the presence of Jesus. I experience him every time I bite into Nana’s hot apple pie, smell her yummy greasy hamburgers from the kitchen, or come to that tiny table curled up in her holey quilt from the closet and nursing her homemade coke float.
May people eat together more often. Not just family, but friends and new acquaintances. And may it happen in homes, around a table, with their shoes off.