On Christmas day I watched Babette’s Feast for the fourth or fifth time. I have enjoyed each viewing but this time I saw something I had not seen before. In my previous experiences with the film, I had always identified with the French chef in exile. She is in a strange wilderness land having lost her whole family and her whole life but she does not let her artistic soul die within her and when she has the chance to share her art again, she does. She gives all she has and the result is a beautiful feast shared with the whole village. I have always admired her example as an artist and a sacrificial giver and I aspire to be like Babette.
But this time, instead of identifying with the giver, I saw myself in the simple, overly pious, uncultured villagers. Worried about the excess that went into preparing the meal, they are hesitant to even taste the food because it is strange and not their usual porridge. Even after tasting the food, they still have no idea they are being served by one of the most famous chefs in Europe. They do not know the value of the gift they are receiving.
After the film ended, in the quietness of Christmas evening, I was left silent and convicted. How many gifts am I given that I do not recognize for the gifts they are?
I think I am better at giving than receiving. I think I am better at being needed than needing. I think I am better at hosting that being hosted. I think I am better at loving than being loved.
It feels stronger, nobler, and more selfless to give and sacrifice but maybe I also just feel more in control? Why do I assume that receiving and needing and even being loved are inherently more selfish actions?
It feels like weakness to need. I often feel unworthy to receive. I am sometimes hesitant to allow myself to be loved. There are gifts I refuse because they seem too lavish and grand to take them – they can feel like excess.
For 2016, I want to learn to receive well and fully the gifts I am given. I want to be better at identifying gifts as they are given, fully experiencing and relishing them, and recognizing their value. I do not want to be ashamed of my need, lack, and want. They are part of living and part of what can make being in community so special. Taking turns giving and receiving – sometimes even in the same interaction. I want to keep learning to give and sacrifice but I also want to learn to receive and accept more graciously as well.
I am nervous of how aware of my great need and the world’s great need I could become and how little I actually have to offer. But this is not an economy of tracking how much is given and how much is received and trying to reconcile accounts so that they are equal. Gifts are not currency. It is an economy of somehow both giving all and also receiving all.