I'm sure there are many people who never say grace. And that for others it's a daily ritual, as much a part of the meal as the food itself. Or for some, it happens only on special occasions like Thanksgiving or at dinner when the whole family is gathered around the table. Have you ever said a blessing before tucking into your drive-thru burger or over your bag lunch at your desk? How about at breakfast or at a picnic?And why do we say meal blessings? Maybe it's because of tradition, or religious mandate, or even genuine gratitude. Or perhaps it's just a habit or an instinct. Sometimes it's a desire to connect, or to teach our children to value and appreciate their food. And then there are the moments when everyone is gathered together and the simple act of saying 'thank you' seems appropriate.
Sometimes meal blessings are about acknowledging just how tentative and precious life is and that we cannot do it alone. They can be teachings of respect and interconnectedness, or an acknowledgment of labor. Or for some there's the desire to stop and focus attention on receiving what's been given and the many forms of nourishment that this brings.
I imagine that food blessings originated way, way back when food was a precious thing and having food in your bowl was not taken casually. Maybe we were a little closer to the fact that something had to give up its life in order for us to be fed. We were also a little closer to the physicality of obtaining food: hunting and gathering, as well as planting and harvesting, is hard work and not always successful.
For most people reading this post today, food security is not an issue. Or at least its not something we think much about. Walk into any one of the many large grocery chains in any city and you're confronted with an enormous store of food, from those piles of potatoes and tomatoes to the never ending cereal aisle. This might be a good place to say a blessing, don't you think? Or even just to pause a moment and take in the overwhelming abundance that is before you. It's actually rather astonishing!
Farm fields take well to blessings and as well as your backyard garden. Lemonade stands and roadside farm stands with honor boxes and bake sales, too. Pot lucks and church suppers and TV dinners! Even that drive-thru burger. Whenever there is nourishment, there's an opportunity to give thanks.
Just fold your hands and bow your head, or link hands with your fellow diners or simply close your eyes and hold still for a breath or two. Bless.
(Image: Alfred Eisenstaedt Sharecropper Lonny Fair and family saying Grace. Mississippi, 1936 )