Another Day in the Country
“Pat, let’s pray”
© Another Day in the Country
I had supper Thursday evening with cousins, cousins’ kids, and kids’ kids — my extended family. It’s nice to have more faces at the table when we get together these days.
As we waited for everyone to get to the table, I was answering a question when, all of a sudden, an authoritative little voice piped up.
“Pat, let’s pray.”
Impatiently eyeing the strawberries on his plate (something no one else had), the youngest member of the family, our resident 3-year-old, wanted to get on with the formalities of the meal.
We all stopped, folded our hands, just as he had, and intoned, “God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food. Amen.”
As the chatter started up around the table, some of us chuckled at this little boy reminding us to say grace and get on with it so he could savor strawberries.
It’s been awhile since I’ve regularly stopped to say grace over my meals. I used to do this all the time. In fact, during all of my growing up years, my child rearing years, my married years and beyond, it was a matter of ingrained habit to say grace.
We didn’t recite the “God is great” prayer, which I think of as a children’s prayer; nor did we say the German prayer that starts out “Come Lord Jesus be our guest,” which my grandpa Schubert always intoned at their table, in German.
We said more informal prayers, which tended to take on repetitive terms through the years, like “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies,” and also “bless the hands that prepared it.” I’m pretty sure that you’ve heard those phrases and may include them in your own table prayers.
A visiting professor of religion, talking to a class that I took as a late-bloomer going to college, discussed how empty formal prayers can become. He challenged his listeners to pray prayers that were fresh, vibrant, and full of meaning.
“Wouldn’t it be better,” he asked, “to eat with thanksgiving than to pray without thinking?”
So, for years now, I’ve been enjoying the practice of eating with thanksgiving, savoring the food on my plate and the people at my table.
When there is a group at the table, we usually pause for a prayer, partly as a way of expressing joy for the abundant food and the lovely people gathered at the table, and partly to set those at ease who never eat without praying first.
My friend Gordon always prayers over meals with the most interesting commentary. He’s a simple man with simple tastes and simple graces. I often eat with him and his wife at a restaurant and their tradition is to pray out loud, holding hands.
So, when our food arrives, they include me in their hand-holding ritual as he prays, commenting on the weather, expressing thanks for those at the table and doing a recap of what we’ve just been discussing before the food came — it’s like a conversation with us at the table and this unseen extra person bending down, stopping to listen. Then we take a breath, pick up our forks and we eat.
I read a book awhile back by an atheist who was discussing the merits of prayer, even if you didn’t believe in an actual physical God sitting in the clouds or on some far off planet listening and categorizing requests from mortals on Earth. He said that when we stop to pray or meditate and form our words into sentences and phrases, out loud or silently, what we are actually doing is declaring our intention. And to declare an intention is helpful in our daily life.
To state an intention clears muddy water of confusion. It sets a course for something different, something better, something healing, something courageous, something renewing to happen in our lives, whether or not you believe that anyone else is listening.
On this fine day in our country, let’s pray.