Saying Grace

Saying Grace June 14, 2012

Of Christian prayers, those related to food can be the most theologically problematic. I remember hearing a missionary speak about how others in her mission team had become ill and she had not, and she attributed it to her “praying over her food” – as though (1) her Christian co-workers did not, (2) prayer effectively prevents food poisoning, and (3) God would vindictively punish Christian missionaries with diarrhea because their prayers were not…I can’t even imagine what.

Likewise something as simple as prayer for “daily bread” is not straightforward – and not only because of the translation issues related to that phrase (which I’ll leave to one side for the present). What does such a prayer mean? That the Wonder factory workers and truck drivers will not go on strike? Or that the drive to the store will not be plagued by inconveniently busy traffic? Or is it really a prayer that we’ll earn enough to buy food – and not spend it unwisely? Do such prayers even remain meaningful in our time?

Bart Simpson once prayed“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing!”

There are quite a lot of discussions online about secular and atheist graces for use before meals. Lots of people agree that expressing gratitude before eating is appropriate. It is how to do so that is challenging – more challenging than many who say grace regularly may realize. Because even from the perspective of a Christian, one perhaps does best to leave God out of it, and express thankfulness for having in a way that does not imply that God selected you to have a surplus and others to starve. If we treat God in the traditional and popular interventionist manner, we end up with the conundrum that is summed up in the following image that has been making the rounds:

I would like to hear from readers of this blog who say grace. Does God feature in the words you use? If your giving thanks is religious in nature, have you found a way to avoid the implication that God has set up a world in which some have access to as much bread as they wish, whether they pray for it/give thanks for it or not, while others’ prayers go unanswered? Does your way of giving thanks include a concern for social justice which acknowledges the problem of some not having enough to eat, and our responsibility as human beings to address that problem and not merely expect some sort of divine intervention to sort it out?

I’m currently pondering the matter and trying to formulate a “grace” for use in my own family. If I come up with something, I’ll share it. And if you share one here that seems better than anything I am likely to come up with, and so I decide to borrow it, rest assured that I will give thanks using appropriate words for what you have provided!

Let me end by sharing this image that I found when I searched for “daily bread”…

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  • BrettG

    I usually say something like this: “Thank you, God, for this food. Now make us your hands and feet for those who are hungry.” Doesn’t get God off the hook for others’ lack, but it does put some responsibility on us.

  • While I can’t explain why some have and others do not I do say grace because I am thankful that I have something to eat. I think this thankfulness does make me aware of others that do not have. This doesn’t always translate into actions as it should, but I think thanklessness would be worse for me and would result in my lacking awareness of the plight of others. 

    When I say thanks I don’t know that I am saying thanks to God for micro-managing goodness or merely originating it. Maybe God has something directly to do with my dinner tonight or maybe he is just the Original Cause of the good things that become my dinner. Not sure.

  • I have found this aspect of meals problematical at times. In some households I have been in, they kneel beside the chair and the women cover their heads with a handkerchief. Non-believers present will be either pressured or embarrassed by such actions. Pace my dear friend and brother, but this is an ambivalent witness. 

    I was asked to say grace the other day at my sister-in-law’s. It took me by surprise but I made it short and sweet in plain English. I boil my ‘theology’ down to three words: help, thanks, and sorry. (I hope it is not boiled dry!)

    We quite often sing the three part round by William Byrd – Non Nobis Domine (Ps 115), (we used to have a table with this grace painted on it in runes) but mostly we do not say grace though I sometimes bless the creation of the fruit of the vine, and the bringing forth bread from the earth (Ps 104:14-15).  Usually my wife and I lift our glasses and say cheers to each other. Sometimes Johnnie Appleseed if there are children around or some other lesser dittie. It is not that you are micro-managing. All prayer is part of a commanded conversation, as Ellul notes (See his little book on prayer) – the only reason for praying is that we are commanded to do so. The Rabbis teach that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it (Ps 24) – so saying thanks allows us to take the food into ourselves (Ps 115:16). Ps 115 – to your name give glory, is somewhat similar to Jesus prayer in John 12:28.

  • duhsciple

    To the hungry give bread. To those who have bread already give a hunger for justice. Amen

  • Gary

    I find the statements of Richard Elliot Friedman regarding original sacrifice (animal) appropriate here. I won’t quote exactly, since I don’t want to spend the time to look it up. But something like, give thanks for the fact that the animal, if you are eating meat, had to give up its life (nephesh – breath of life), so we can stuff our gullets. Something like the Avatar native’s approach to life and death, which I watched recently.

  • aaron

    I typically pray something along the lines of:
    Lord, thank you for this food, may it serve as a reminder for us of those who will go without food today.
    Sometimes I change it, if I’m with friends, e.g.
    Lord, thank you for this food and great friends, may it help us be more friendly to those around us who are lonely. 

  • cameronhorsburgh

    We say grace in our family, but it essentially functions as a way of signalling that all participants are gathered and we’re ready to start the meal. In effect, it means we can start eating, even if (in a restaurant, for example) not all meals have been served.

    Come to think of it, it functions that way at church meals too.

    I have been known to glare at (my own) kids who sneak a chip off plate early and tell them that the meal won’t work if they eat before grace. I don’t know what that means, and I generally get ignored.

  • Patricia

    When I say grace it’s a statement of my gratitude, not just to God but to each person at the table. I don’t close my eyes, but I look into the face of each person at the table. I want to show that I acknowledge and am deeply grateful for all the hard work that went into getting that meal onto my plate, that I am not entitled to this and I take nothing for granted. And to God I say thanks for all the amazing combinations of plants and animals that we can eat.

  • CarolineDye MemorialChapel

    For daily use: “Let everyone that brought this food to us, from [whoever cooked it] to the laborers in the fields, be blessed as we are right now. Care for them as well as you have cared for us — or better.”

    For parties, especially with people who like a little woo-woo, as I do: “We seekers after spirit know / the spirit loves the flesh, and so / we all invite the spirit to this feast.”

  • I really don’t think a person can fully appreciate a good meal until they have known what hunger and thirst is really like. Having had to survive six days without food and water once on an ocean voyage, I began my own ritual with every meal. I don’t thank God in the very beginning of the meal, but instead at the end. The very last bite of food or drink I consume becomes something of a sacrifice. After being fully satisfied, I know what abundance is, and not the pain of hunger and thirst. (The photo of the car and child represents it nicely). If you’re ever eating alone, try it sometime.

  • I ate at some friends’ house who’s daily “grace” is: “Some have food and some do not. God bless the revolution.”