I just put the beginnings of a beautiful pot roast in the oven. Fresh onions, carrots, rosemary, thyme, seared beef, red wine… my fingers still smell of sage. Beauty.
We watched Babette’s Feast last night, and I’ve decided to write on that rather than the memorial service for now. I have too much to ponder, and beauty seems to be the thing my mind can fathom today.
Babette’s Feast is a film rich with beauty and the fruits of the Spirit. Lorenz Lowenheilm partakes of a delicious feast prepared by the talented chef-turned-servant, Babette. She wins the lottery and chooses to spend her winnings to prepare the feast for Lorenz and a community of puritanical Christians. Throughout the meal, unsure of how to appreciate the feast within the confines of a stale theology, the Puritans quote scripture or portions of sermons to discourage themselves from tasting and enjoying the culinary masterpiece before them. One woman, fighting the urge to savor the morsel in her mouth, bursts out, “Man is not his bowels… because he eats to live, instead of perpetrating sin.”
Toward the end of the meal, Lorenz is struck by the Puritan community’s struggle to process the lavish feast alongside a theology that stresses the spiritual over the flesh. He stands and taps his glass, “Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and shortsightedness believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But no. Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when our eyes are opened and we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”
Lorenz shares the other half of the gospel the Puritan disciples had never tasted. Their eyes light up with the realization that the mercy and grace Lorenz spoke of, as inspired by the beauty of the feast, are infinitely allotted to them. Their new found freedom comes as a result of the completion of their understanding of the gospel, that Christ’s salvation and all of God’s beauty is by grace, not by effort or even the effort of decision. They begin to savor the remainder of the feast, and they forgive each other and themselves for past sins, finally displaying the fruits of the Spirit toward one another.
The gospel scarcely fits inside a mountain forest, in its clarity and heart-piercing. It certainly cannot be contained in verses extracted and underlined from the vast story of God’s faithfulness as spoken by the Bible and confirmed by beauty, even the beauty of a feast. There is something powerful in beauty, and even powerful in pain, for in that pain, our eyes open wider to see His beauty. I know the truth of Him through Scripture, but in His mercy, my eyes are allowed to see it through beauty. God makes the gospel known, not only to the spirit, but to the flesh, as we long for its realignment.
Fire-colored sunsets, a gentle mountain stream, an ivory wedding gown, a Christmas symphony, even the smell of my pot roast (the aroma of sage and red wine is heavenly) cannot contain the whole gospel, and there is risk in solely pursuing these beauties rather than taking them as mercies scattered along the path of a Christian in a fallen world. But beauty is a trail marker, a reminder of God’s presence and the truth of the gospel, even as we are constantly being delivered to death. Even as I consider the pain of death and the reality of a broken world, it is the mercy of beauty that affords me a taste of heaven, and is a reminder that not all is lost, even when it seems lost.
There are smells and tastes and pieces of art and songs and vacations at the beach and beautifully crafted words all around us, aching to be used correctly as agents of the gospel of Christ, rather than as a sole pursuit. The sunset will eventually fade, the wedding gown tatter, and my pot roast will rot, even the pages of my Bible will eventually burn away, but the truth they illuminate will never be lost. This is everlasting beauty.