Image by lars hammar via Flickr
I recently watched the movie Babette’s Feast for the first time in a long time. Based on Isak Dinesen’s short story of the same title, this movie is rich with sacramental overtones. Here is a list of resources for discussion. Grace is the central theme, and one way to summarize the plot is that a small, hurting congregation gets healed.
The story takes place in a remote area of Scandinavia, where two older, never-married sisters are the leaders of a small, puritan-like congregation that their father had founded many years before. The congregants devote themselves to simplicity, prayer and the word, and care for the poor and the sick. They address one another as sister and brother.
By the time of the feast, the centerpiece of the story, the congregation has dwindled down to eleven members, all getting on in years. They have been church together for a lifetime. Lately, though, the brothers and sisters have grown irritable and quarrelsome. They drag out and rehearse old hurts and blame one another for their problems. To the dismay of their pastors, the founder’s daughters, they don’t feel like singing their beloved hymns together any more. (more…)
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So many people have spoken to me about prayer as if prayer is something you have to get right: right words, right subjects, right structure, right timing, right frequency. Recently when I was describing to a colleague the struggle to speak French, and the grace with which my efforts were received in France, she noted that God receives our attempts to pray in the same generous, loving way.
I remember my daughter’s early efforts at talking and the joy they brought us. She was so obviously trying to imitate us. Once, when she was about a year old, my mother brought Laura downstairs after having given her a bath. I said, “Hi, clean girl!” Laura said it right back to me, minus the consonants but with the same intonation and enthusiasm. Talking was not something she had to “get right” or else we would frown on her.
How much more does God welcome God’s children when our hearts reach back to him, sometimes with words, sometimes without! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
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My daughter Laura and I were blessed to spend four weeks in France this past summer. As we made new friends and worked on improving our French, we experienced an outpouring of God’s grace, and it came in many forms. This is what it is like to speak and function in another language: it is a struggle. You have to plow on ahead, knowing that you are going to make mistake after mistake after mistake. It just can’t be helped, and discouragement and fatigue are inevitable.
I experience times when I can “flow” in French, and then–crash! All of a sudden everything comes to a screeching halt! I can’t find a word or a phrase I need, or I’ve talked myself into a corner that I can’t get out of. Thanks be to God for our new friends who were ready and willing to help without embarrassing us. They listened carefully, and with good humor they guided us back onto the path.
I saw God’s grace in theirs. Here we are, making mistake after mistake after mistake, doing what we ought not to do and leaving undone what we ought to do, veering off the path and getting into corners we can’t get out of. But God leans in and speaks a word to help us, without any interest in shaming us.
Grace is an amazing gift. And it’s a gift to offer to the many in this country whose maternal language is not English, who struggle to understand and to be understood.
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