Does anyone say grace anymore? We never did when I was growing up, and I’m guessing my family was typical in this way. I don’t remember other families saying grace when we visited their homes.
Truthfully, I’m catching myself a little off-guard by my really strong desire to say a blessing at mealtimes. I don’t come from a strong religious background – born to parents of Hindu, Buddhist, and pagan traditions and then growing up in Canada, my religious bearings were not only faint but also confused.
So I can’t explain the desire through past practice or religious bent. Trying to work it out for myself, I think it must come from an intention to live more mindfully and, having been graced with love beyond my wildest dreams through motherhood, a growing need to simply express gratitude.
Food seems like a natural place to do it, partly because what we eat has such important personal and political ramifications (good entry points into these issues are The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser).
But the other reason food seems like a natural place to give thanks is because the need to eat is so universal and constant. I recently picked up A Grateful Heart, edited by M.J. Ryan, which contains this passage in the foreward by William Shore:
“I’ve always viewed mealtime as a humbling moment. The need to eat not only unites us all but underscores a basic human frailty. Nature marks time in eons, yet each of us needs to eat every few hours, a fraction of time almost too infinitesimal for nature to even measure. But the need is true and unrelenting for each and every one of us, no matter how rich or poor, powerful or oppressed, weak or strong – it is an emblem of our humanness. It’s almost as if nature had created an infallible way to remind us, daily and nearly hourly, that we are bound to and dependent upon every other living thing in this universe, a knowledge that is surely the ultimate blessing.”
Reviewing this book, which is a collection of “blessings” from a wide variety of spiritual disciplines and secular perspectives, just confirmed what I already knew I had to do. And that’s to create some space in our lives, however ragged and imperfect the circumstances may be, for a moment of connection and gratitude before eating dinner.
This means that most nights, when it’s just me and my 4 and 2 year old sons (my husband works most evenings), we take the time to set the table (it’s surprising how much a 4 year old can assist with this if allowed and encouraged). When seated together, we hold hands and recite our blessing.
There’s little formality, and I make no reprimands when the children climb into their seats and hungrily start eating before I sit down. I just gather their attention for a moment when we are ready, smiling and making eye contact, and hope that I am planting some good seeds in fertile soil this way.
There are some beautiful blessings in The Grateful Heart and I’ve taken note of them for future reference. But for now, for my little guys, I wanted something more accessible and simple, and I found myself making this up on the spot the first night we tried it. I’m sure it will change, but it suits us well now:
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the love we keep,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you, for everything.
The boys have taken to it the way small children take to anything pleasant: readily and earnestly. Just a couple of days after we started, my older son asked if were going to say a blessing before I had a chance to propose it myself.
It is such a simple gesture and ritual, and yet it fills me with such pleasure. It is almost a relief, this release of grateful energy. How is it that giving thanks to others is a means by which to engender such good feeling in myself?
Stephen Hyde might know the answer to this, if the following excerpt from his article called “Great Man Going” is an indication. His are the passages that close the introduction to A Grateful Heart:
“When was the last time, if ever, you saw anyone at McDonald’s offer an expression of thanks… for his or her food? Billions of burgers consumed yet not a solitary act of gratitude, individual or corporate, no festival to honor the bovine being in myth and art and imagination, or to celebrate the annual resurrection of the potato. How can this be? What kind of monstrous indifference to the taking of life does this suggest? What kind of heinous disrespect for the life that sustains human life? What is the real price we pay for the convenience of fast and plentiful food? Apathy, neglect, isolation? Or is it something deeper, the loss of relationship, or wholeness, of soul? …
Once, the rituals of gratitude informed nearly every aspect of human life. Most of these we have abandoned or forgotten. Now, try to imagine this: for every one of those burgers sold, a song raised, a life recalled, a measure of grace restored.”