Are you comfortably numb?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Babette's Feast

A story of grace, by Karen Blixen, under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen.

Blixen set her story in Norway, but the Danish film-makers changed the location to an impoverished fishing village on the coast of Denmark. In this grim setting lived a group of worshippers in an austere Lutheran sect. All wore black. Their diet consisted of boiled cod and a gruel made from boiling bread in water fortified with a splash of ale. On the Sabbath, the group met together and sang songs about 'Jerusalem, my happy home, name ever dear to me'. They had fixed their compasses on the New Jerusalem, with life on eerth tolerated as a way to get there.

The Dean of the sect had two daughters named Martine and Philippa (after Martin Luther and his disciple Philip Melanchthon), whose radiant beauty could not be suppressed despite the sisters' best efforts. He prevented them from marrying a dashing young cavalry officer and a famous operatic singer, although they two resisted their advances, believing that these kind of pleasures should be renounced!

Fifteen years passed, the Dean died, and much changed in the villange. Members of the sect were quarrelling and bore grudges against one another. A pair of old ladies hadn't spoken for a decade. Attendance on the Sabbath dropped, yet the sisters carried on organising the services.

One night, a woman collapsed at the sisters' front door. She bore a note from Achille Papin, the man who had tried to marry Philippa. The woman's name was babette, and she had lost her husband and son during the civil war in France. Her life in danger, she had to flee, and Papin had found her passage on a ship in hopes that this village might show her mercy. "Babette can cook," the letter read.

Despite the sisters' initial reluctance and distrust, Babette softened their hearts with her pleas. She promised to do any chores in exchange for food and board.

For 12 years she worked for the sisters. The first time Martine showed her how to split a cod and cook the gruel, Babette's eyebrow shot upward and her nose wrinkled a little, but she never once questioned her assignments. She fed the poor people of the town and even helped with Sabbath services. Everyone had to agree that Babette brought new life to the stagnant community.

Since Babette never mentioned her past life in France, it came as a surprise when after 12 years she received her very first letter. She announced to the sisters that a wonderful thing had happened. Each year in Paris a friend had renewed Babette's numbers in the French lottery. This year, her ticket had won: 10,000 francs! The sisters outwardly congratulated her, but inside their hearts sank. They knew that she would soon leave.

This coincided with the sisters' plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their Father's birth. Babette came to them and said, "In 12 years I have asked you nothing". The sisters nodded. "But now I have a request. I would like to prepare the anniversary meal. I would like to cook you a real French dinner". The sisters, full of trepidation, have no option but to agree.

In the following days the sisters' kitchen becomes full of exotic foods: crates of small birds, fresh vegetables, truffles, pheasants, ham, a huge tortoise... the sisters are alarmed. The sect agrees to eat the French meal, but withhold comment about it and not even notice the taste, lest she get the wrong idea.

When the evening of the meal arrives, Babette's table looks wonderful. When the meal begins, the guests, their faces puckered with deep wrinkles, eat the delicacies without expression or comment. However, although no one spoke of the food, the banquet worked a magical effect on the churlish villagers. Their blood warmed. Their tongues loosened. Old hurts were forgiven. The two women found themselves speaking once again. When the meal was over the villagers went outside, joined hands and sing lustily the songs of faith. They felt as if "they had indeed had their sins washed white as wool".

The final scene takes place inside the kitchen. It is piled high with unwashed dishes, greasy pots, shells, carapaces, gristly bones, broken crates, vegetable trimmings and empty bottled. Babette sits amid the mess, looking as wasted as the night she arrived twelve years before. Suddenly the sisters realise that, in accordance with the vow, no one has spoken to Babette of the dinner.

"It was quite a nice dinner, Babette," Martine says tentatively.

Babette seems far away. After a time she says to them, "I was once cook at the Café Anglais." [a restaurant in Paris]

"We will all remember this evening when you have gone back to Paris, Babette," Martine adds, as if not hearing her.

Babette tells them that she will not be going back to Paris. All her friends and relatives there have been killed or imprisoned. And, of course, it would be expensive to return to Paris.

"But what about the 10,000 francs?" the sisters ask.

Then Babette drops the bombshell. She has spent her winnings, every last franc of the ten thousand she won, on the feast they have just devoured. Don't be shocked, she tells them. That is what a proper dinner for twelve costs at the Café Anglais.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I should be doing something far more constructive than this...

...however I feel that I should be a bit more faithful to this blog of mine, I seem to have neglected it a bit recently with my sporadic posting.

Training course was really good this week; for the first time we actually had to do a role play where we pretended to be a woman with a crisis pregnancy and a counsellor (not at the same time, we did it in pairs). We had to practise how to do a pregnancy test and tell the woman about the results and stuff. I got off the hook this time as I had to be the woman coming to the centre: I felt sorry for the lady who had to pretend to be my counsellor!

Last night I went out clubbing with college friends for 2 of their 19ths. I hadn't seen some of them for 2 months! It was a little weird being with them and not being my old (drunken, stupid) self, but good. I did actually have a really good time. And what's more an old friendship that had been ruined was repaired again, which was a relief and an answer to many months' prayer. I mustn't let it get so long before I see them again... God is very good at preserving his sheep even when they are surrounded by temptation... however this time I felt the need to be within the temptation was more important, because my friends were in danger of thinking I was really fickle and a rubbish friend because I hadn't seen them for so long! Anyway thankfully nothing went wrong. A typical "in but not of the world" conundrum.

PMQTs is on... Blair's voice really does get quite wearing. Not to mention what he's saying.

And may I just say an honorary happy birthday to my good mother for yesterday. I won't tell you how old she is cos you won't believe me! :p

Must go now have so much to do today! Am helping with Warden Park (my old secondary school) CU for the first time today. And need to prepare my second talk for Zig Zag. Slightly less scary than last time though - Isaac was born - message - God keeps his promises!

Will post some more interesting stuff soon, I promise... most probably about Philip Yancey's 'What's so Amazing About Grace?' (oooh controversial)


Monday, October 11, 2004

It has been a ridiculous amount of time since I posted

...and for that I apologise. I know you are all very upset with me, particularly Dan Harman, who first brought my lack of posting to my attention. The truth is, I haven't been in the mood for a considerable amount of time, due to various unexpected and unforeseen events in my life. However now I'm feeling up to it again.

Well, I said I'd tell you about the Women's Convention, so I will. Unfortunately my enjoyment of it was somewhat reduced due to the fact that I got just 2 hours of sleep the night before. And no, before you assume that just because I am between the ages of 16 and 24 I was out having a good time, let me assure you that was far from the case. As many of you know I already had a cold, which was causing my asthma to worsen. On Friday night I accidentally left my asthma inhaler at work. Thus I struggled to breathe, through either my nasal or oral passages, for the entire night, resulting in the aforementioned 2 hours of slumber.

So I found it quite hard to concentrate for much of the day, although thankfully the talks were so good I still got a lot out of them. Highlights were Sharon James' talk "Material Girl", particularly the short time of discussion in small groups, and Lizzy Smallwood's talk at the end on a passage from Philippians. It was a little weird meeting with just women. Particularly the singing was lacking. And I'm not entirely convinced whether there is a need for it... perhaps just a 'London Convention' with seminars for women and men separately would be better. I for one didn't think there was anything particularly special about just meeting with a load of women. I felt like it was sort of a glorified WI convention, without the Victoria Sponge (unfortunately) and calendars with naked pictures in (?).

However, the talk on Materialism was very helpful, particularly as I am reading Christians in a Consumer Culture. Very challenging, as they say. And yes I do actually mean I am going to do something about it, rather than just saying 'Very challenging, hmm, yes' and feeling good about being challenged before going back to my old ways.

I picked up 'Knowing God' by Packer yesterday at church and started reading it. I've always thought it must be really hard to read because it's so packed full of theology (ha!) yet his writing style is amazingly compelling, both concise and at the same time lyrical. I am hoping I'll manage it through the whole thing. It also continues to amaze me how books written decades ago (e.g. the Screwtape Letters) comment on the postmodern and relativist nature of society, because we tend to think it has only taken over in the last few years.

My course is going very well. We're getting into the real nitty gritty of how to counsel now, having to think of questions and comments we'd say in response to certain statements. It's very hard work, and the fact that there are no right answers (but several wrong ones) is both reassuring and frustrating, given the way my brain works.

Church yesterday was great as well. God has blessed me with a real awareness of his presence over the last few days. I woke up the other morning and felt really down, and thought the only way I am going to get out of bed is by reminding myself there is more to life than my own mood swings, so I read the passage of the crucifixion in Mark. It's a great way to start the day - by thinking about the most significant, awe-inspiring event in history. Do you ever start thinking about it and wonder how on earth a physical death can be a spiritual redemption? And then you realise it was God who died... and the mind boggles. Church yesterday was focused on faith in our morning Hebrews series, and then the Spirit of sonship in the evening, which was great. Both were very encouraging and more importantly reminded me what is really worth thinking about and worrying about in life. So all in all I'm feeling very encouraged.

Oh and thanks to everyone who prayed for my Zig Zag talk! It went so well, and the kids were fabulous. God is good!

Must go now a game of literati with my Brazil-bound father calls.

Bec xx

Friday, October 01, 2004

Disturbingly, I'm beginning to like Norah Jones...

...yes, my taste in music has indeed been tinged by a fragment of what we would call 'middle of the road'. Tom would argue that it is irredeemably immersed in it, in fact drowned, never to return to obscurity or indeed the avoidance of all mainstream music that his taste represents.

Anyway... I'm feeling in fairly good spirits at the moment. My cold is still with me, which is well annoying. I'm working tonight so beware customers... that isn't extra sauce on your meals. Actually that's quite disgusting. I'm joking. No really, I AM.

I've just received an email from the good people at 'cheap viagra'. They keep offering the stuff to me. When will they learn? The cheap stuff is far too tacky for me

I've finally managed to get properly into 'Christians in a Consumer Culture' by John Benton! My experience of this book in previous times has been something I'm sure you can relate to. You know, you pick up a book, thinking 'I'll read it to the end this time', and somehow there's an invisible, yet very powerful, force, preventing you from getting past page 30. I've done that at least 4 times with this book, and yet this time the force has been broken. Makes for a very challenging read, but Benton is neither judgmental nor self-righteous. I recommend it to anyone - just bear in mind you'll have to start reading it at least 3 or 4 times! So having spent most of the day reading half of that, I promptly went on and spent a lot of money on some long-wanted DVDs and CDs. They were very cheap for what they were though! ;)

Well I'd better go, I must prepare the evening meal for moi and young Thomas.

Am looking forward to the women's conference tomorrow, will let you know how it goes!!!

Bec x