A few weeks ago I received a little treasure in the mail: a copy of Adrian Butash's new book, Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World. This small, rich book is designed for that moment when we sit down to eat and halt for an instant to say a brief word of gratitude for the food set before us. Butash's book offers a generous, ecumenical selection of 150 poems, prayers, and blessings from all over the world that have been used at the table, gratefully. Here are two of my favorites.
I was raised in a religious household — my father is a pastor — and our mealtimes never failed to start with a prayer. Usually simple, and sometimes very quick (depending on who was praying!), this moment of pause was completely ingrained in me. It still feels strange to begin eating without at least a moment of acknowledgement of gratitude and blessing.
No matter what your religious background, this book is a rich trove for those moments — especially ones like the Thanksgiving meal, where a larger gathering may call for a more eloquent blessing. Bless This Food includes a wide-roving diversity of prayers: just a few of the groups and nations represented include the Iroquois and Eskimo peoples, Japan, Sumer, Armenia, and Egypt. It draws on many religious traditions, from Coptic Orthodox to Sufism to humanism, and named authors range from Hildegard of Bingen to Shakespeare to Whittier.
Each prayer takes up a page, and below it Butash offers a short insight into the meaning or the history. I especially liked Butash's thoughts on how this book could be used in a family context; he says: "To any child who can read, this book gives the opportunity to lead the family in prayer, to participate actively in a family ritual instead of remaining a subordinate, passive member at the table." Lovely, right?
As he says, many of these prayers transcend their religious contexts and can be enjoyed and spoken by all in gratitude for the food that nourishes us all.
Here are two of my favorites:
Here with flowers I interweave my friends.
Let us rejoice!
Our common house is the earth.
I come too, here I am standing;
now I am going to forge songs,
oh my friend!
God has sent me as a messenger.
I am transformed into a poem.
— Nahuatl (Mexico) blessing (circa 1300 BC)
Bless our hearts
to hear in the
breaking of bread
the song of the universe.
— Father John Giuliani (b. 1932)
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World by Adrian Butash
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