Blessings On This Day
Do you say grace at the table before you eat?
When I was small “Come Lord Jesus, be Thou our guest and let these gifts unto us be blest. Amen”
Irreverent when Mom was gone and Dad was at the table, “Good food, good meat, good God lets eat.”
Sometimes a song: “Back of the bread is the flour, and back of the flour is the mill. Back of the mill is the wind and the rain and the father’s will.” When my stepfather merged in to our family he gleefully amended, “…and back of the mill is the wind and the rain and your Mother’s will.”
The years I attended or worked at a camp different non-denominational graces floated through like “Thank you Thank you, we all say thank you to you, to you. Thank you, thank you, we all say thank you to you.” Sufficient and complete.
In the second year of our romance, my husband and I spent consecutive weekends at a bed and breakfast here in the Berkshires. We still lived in our very small apartment in the Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Our weekends in the ‘”country” brought a variety and grace to our new life together. One morning, we lingered at the breakfast table with the hosts of the B&B longer than usual. The other guests had left. This dear couple that were to become very important people in our lives gave us the first of many lessons simply by living openly in front of us. They served each other homemade yogurt and granola, poured tea for each other and before they picked up their spoons, they leaned towards each other seated as they were at the corner of a large breakfast table, but their hands together, foreheads nearly touching, and blessed the meal and the day. We were stilled to witness this partnership. They appeared to us so capable, intelligent and strong. Here they allowed us to see them vulnerable and devotional, to each other and to the holy presence they addressed. Both of us cherish this memory.
My kids have known several graces. When we grab hands and take a breath, either, “For health and strength and daily bread we give our thanks oh Lord. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia Amen.” or if we are feeling less like singing, “Bless this meal” spoken in unison, holding hands, does all we need to do to bring our full selves to the table to appreciate and enjoy the meal before us. If it is Friday, we say the Sabbath Prayer in Hebrew over the candles, the fruit of the vine, the grain. My husband recalls to us the vision of his Grandmother pulling her shawl over her head to say the prayers of the Sabbath, scooping up the candle light towards her eyes, welcoming the Sabbath in the table.
In the March issue of Orion Magazine, published right here in Great Barrington, Jay Griffiths writes,
“The word think comes from the same root as the word thank, so thinkfulness is a kind of thankfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of gratefulness. Grace, of course, is related to gratitude, and in a state of grace, thanking becomes thinking: to think is to give thanks, to say grace not just at the moments of splendor but at the ordinary times…”
There is nothing more ordinary that sitting down to share a meal together. Though some would say a common mealtime is becoming rare, most of the people I know eat together. So let us say grace together.
Blessings have great power, both for our thinking and our thanking. At the very least, they bring me present. I cannot keep serving spoons or dishtowels or gadgets in my hands when holding hands to say grace. Sometimes we have to check the grubby paws reaching towards us, questioning the last time those sticky palms have seen soapy water, but always, always, we are happy to reach towards one another and link in to a circle, if only for a few moments.
How do we bless today if we have not grown up in a faith practice? What is the point anyway? Whether you ascribe to a religion or not, gratitude for food is about the most basic prayer we can offer. Thank you for bringing us to this meal. We used to play a game at our table, tracing back through the prayer everyone who helped bring our food to this table.
The farmer who grew it.
The soil that nurtured it.
The sun that warmed it.
The rain that fed it.
The worker who picked it.
The trucks that carried it.
The grocers that displayed it.
The person who hauled the grocery sack in from the car.
The person who cooked the meal.
The person who set the table.
The person who chopped or served.
The ones who will clean up after us.
If you buy food at a farmer’s market or belong to a CSA, this grace can get very personal.
Until recently, when my daughter urged us to say the simplest prayer, “Bless this meal” with our hands joined and lifting with each word, I thought she was trying to jump to the meal. Then, one day I heard her tell a guest that this was the grace she and her class spoke together every single lunch period from first through eighth grade at the Waldorf School in Great Barrington. While I was thinking she was being stingy, she was recalling her 24 classmates and her beloved teacher in a ritual she took part in more than any number of lunches I have sat with her in.
Blessings on this humble pie as I parent my children.
In my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions we wrote blessings the other night. Making two lists, one of people or situations you disdain and one of things you adore, we randomly chose an item off each list. One of my students, Maggie, blushed immediately, asking, “Do we have to include the name of the person in the blessing?”
Of course not, I answered, and she got to work.
Writing your own blessing brings a power along with the sweetness of gratitude and a call for guidance or protection. Perhaps your faith practice indicates how you bless another or a meal, but in the most simple of ways, making a blessing acknowledges your place in the order of life. As Gloria Steinem says we are linked, not ranked. Grace in a circle for a common meal puts us all in order, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand.
John O’Donohue writes,
“I believe each one of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plentitude flows in to our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness.”
His book, To Bless the Space Between Us offers blessings for many situations, including meal times. I wonder if you could find a way that works for your family to bless your times together?
Maggie is one of the new writers featured in Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others, part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. She has been part of my Powder Keg Ramsdell Sessions since January. She shared the blessing she wrote. I was surprised to learn that it was a blessing for me.
Here is Maggie’s Blessing.
Play with writing your own blessings. Or come join me to write together at the Ramsdell Library this or any of three Wednesdays each month til June.
Do you say grace before a meal?
What blessings do you offer?
If you wrote one, share it here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.