Even though I haven’t been to Mass in years, I still recite the Catholic blessing I learned in elementary school before every meal.
“Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
It occurs to me that we humans are probably more disconnected from our food than we’ve ever been in our short history on Earth. We are more likely to consume our daily bread on the run, in a hurry, at a desk, or in a car than we are to slowly digest a slowly-prepared meal surrounded by family and friends. Often times we have no idea where the food we are eating came from, nor the name nor face of the person who prepared it. We may only give thought to the ingredients in the dish placed before us if there is either risk (e.g., allergy or religious taboo) or cachet associated with its presence.
No wonder then, that our giving of thanks before a meal is often overlooked or reserved for only the most special of occasions like, say… Thanksgiving.
I’ve attended my fair share of Thanksgiving dinners – with both my own family and with the extended family that I call my friends. Though the dishes on the table have varied according to the customs, traditions, and culinary skills of those present, there’s been one common trait among each of those Thanksgiving meals. The prayer before the meal.
At the assigned moment, heads bow, hands reach out to the persons beside you, a moment of silence ensues before someone – usually one of the eldest, but sometimes simply the bossiest – will appoint the prayer-giver for the meal. The newly knighted – depending on their experience with such matters – will either stumble for a few moments or leap to the charge. Soon, the prayer begins.
The rest of us listen, reverently. But we only half-hear the words. We are thinking of the sumptuousness of the food spread out in front of us, we are conscious of the feel of our neighbors’ hands in ours, we may briefly remember the faces of those who aren’t present but we wish were there, we may feel a subtle welling of emotion at the gravity of the moment. And then, it is done. We release our neighbors’ hands, and start our strategic jockeying for position in the buffet line.
At its most basic, the act of eating a meal is a purely physical experience. But a brief moment of reverence before consuming the first bite, can transform the act of eating into a kind of sensory meditation.
“Food is divine, a gift from God. With deep respect you eat, and while eating you forget everything else, because eating is prayer. It is existential prayer.” ~ Osho
At Thanksgiving, the before-meal prayer is a symbolic act that says, ‘this moment is special’. It reaffirms our connectedness to others, and makes us pause to think about what we are about to put into our bodies. And though most pre-Thanksgiving prayers are offered to a divine source (a fact that even my most atheist friends will let slide for Thanksgiving), mealtime prayers need not be religious, nor do they need to be reserved only for ‘special occasions’.
Here is a collection prayers, sayings, and meditations that can be said before meals:
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.
May this food restore our strength, giving new energy to tired limbs, new thoughts to weary minds. May this drink restore our souls, giving new vision to dry spirits, new warmth to cold hearts. And once refreshed, may we give new pleasure to You, who gives us all.
“The Quaker tradition of “silent grace” before meals also works well for a dinner party with people of diverse religions and beliefs. All present join hands in a circle around the table, and are silent for half a minute or so as they collect their thoughts, meditate or pray. Then one person gently squeezes the hands of the people seated adjacent; this signal is quickly passed around the table and people then begin to eat….” from secularseasons.org
God is great, God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands we all are fed,
Give us, Lord, our daily bread.
For the meal we are about to eat,
for those that made it possible,
and for those with whom we are about to share it,
we are thankful.
We celebrate this occasion
with food from the earth.
May it fill us with fellowship
and add to our mirth.
What before-meal words of thanks do you give? Do you save mealtime prayers for special occasions or are they an everyday ritual?