Is There a Tiny Puritan Living in Your Head? Tell Him to Get Lost.
Written by TM of JC on June 1, 2022
I am convinced that most of us have a Tiny Puritan who lives in our heads. He sees all pleasure as temptation. He thinks the safest way to stay morally pure is to be chronically wary of one’s own enjoyment. When we find ourselves enjoying something (be it a particularly overripe peach, an amazing piece of music, or a first kiss), he furrows his brows, grumbling, “Sinner! Be careful! You might get carried away!” The Tiny Puritan is a nuisance, but we’re afraid to get rid of him, because we really do want to be good.
The Tiny Puritan believes all pleasures are guilty pleasures. Did you enjoy that movie? The Tiny Puritan suggests you could/should be doing something more productive or spiritual. Did you love those donuts? The Tiny Puritan suggests that you are a glutton.
We all handle the Tiny Puritan in our own special way. Some people learn early in life to lock the Tiny Puritan in a box and bury him somewhere deep in their subconscious, boldly enjoying pleasures both innocent and salacious. Some of us try to bargain with the Tiny Puritan, enjoying some small pleasures, but not without being flattened slightly by his derisive scoff. We end up trying to follow all the Puritan’s demanding rules, just so he’ll shut up.
It reminds me of one of my favorite films: Babette’s Feast. The 1980s Danish film follows the life of two sisters (Martine and Filippa), the children of a sincere but austere Lutheran pastor, who live a strict and pleasureless life on a barren and remote coast of Jutland. Each, in her turn, falls in love but turns the suitor down out of a misguided sense of duty and piety. They justify their self-denial as a triumph over worldly temptation, but regret haunts their quiet moments.
After their father dies, they do their best to tend to his dwindling congregation. Out of the long wasteland of their lives comes Babette, a refugee from France. She brings life and beauty to the dour daily grind of the sisters—simple pleasures, good food, flowers in the window. After many years, Babette wins the lottery and resolves to move back to France, but before she does, she has one request: that she might cook a feast for the sisters and their friends. Though circumspect, they accept.
Babette embarks on a conspiracy of excess. She sends her nephew on a mission to procure special ingredients—fish, fruit, wine, even a turtle. Like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, she sets her table beautifully, mixes her wines, and prepares a feast unlike anything the self-denying Jutlanders have ever seen.
When the night of the feast comes, the sisters and the old villagers attend the feast but privately agree not to talk about the food. Only one guest truly appreciates its greatness: Martine’s former suitor Lorens. A true connoisseur, he appreciates every facet of the feast, each carefully curated morsel, and cannot understand how the guests around him seem bent on ignoring the sensuous masterpiece unfolding before them. They have been given pure grace, needing nothing of them other than enjoyment, but they treat it as temptation.
Try as they might to resist the beauty and bounty of Babette’s table, the guests experience a transformation. Old pettiness is confronted and resolved in magnanimity. Shameful sins are confessed and forgiven. Love is rekindled, and the evening ends with all the guests rejoicing together beneath a canopy of stars. It is revealed that Babette has spent all her money on the feast, and that she will stay in Jutland after all. Martine sobs, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life.” Babette responds, “An artist is never poor.” Babette knew what the sisters did not—that God’s world is a gift of grace, that God is the artist who is always pleased with his good work, and that we honor him by loving and enjoying his good g