For a change, let us stray from discussing the politics of the day and visit the ritual of saying grace at mealtimes.
“Saying the blessing” during my childhood traditionally was the head of the house’s responsibility, i.e., usually a male.
I don’t remember the words of Pa’s expression of gratitude. I remember that it was brief and never varied in text.
The same could not be said of his Sunday night prayers, when members of our large family knelt by our chairs and bowed our heads while Pa rambled on and on.
He prayed for forgiveness of sins. He prayed for rain during droughts that threatened our crops. He asked for healing of family members’ and neighbors’ ailments.
I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think he was above praying for Republican party victories during presidential election seasons.
Some people resort to reciting tried and true childhood prayers as mealtime blessings. For example:
“God is great. God is good.
Let us thank Him for this food.
By his hand we all are fed.
Thank you, God, for daily bread.”
Years ago, during a meal at a friend’s house, he began blessing the food with, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” When he realized his error, he apologized and switched to another mealtime prayer.
When I say grace, I try to compose my own. However, I worry that my performance is woefully inadequate in view of the good life that has been granted me.
And I worry about bothering Him with trivia. A relative once related that earlier in the day, she was running late for her beauty shop appointment, but had asked God to turn all the stoplights green on her route.
“You didn’t!” I said.
“I did,” she said. “And He turned ‘em all green and I made it just in time.”
I consulted the Rev. William Simpson, my former pastor at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, regarding blessings.
“I say different prayers, but they’re similar,” Simpson said. “Usually, I thank God for the food, ask His blessings over all gathered and occasionally will mention a concern that we have as a family.
“A standard prayer is no problem, even if it becomes ritual, “ he said, mentioning that the Wesley Table Grace is one of the most popular graces in Methodism:
“Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and ev’rywhere adored.
These mercies bless, and grant that we
May feast in Paradise with thee.”
And I learned the following from the Rev. Vernon Tyson, another retired Edenton Street minister:
“As you blessed the loaves and fishes
Bless the food upon these dishes.
As the sweetener is absorbed in the tea
Let us, O Lord, become absorbed in thee.”
At our annual family reunion every June, a member of the family in charge of the reunion for that year is responsible for providing the blessing.
For years, a few of us would peek to see if an impatient older brother would again reach out during the prayer and snatch some tempting morsel from the table and eat it.
I recently recounted an incident that I observed when I once walked into a restaurant and saw a young couple with their heads bowed, seemingly in prayer.
I soon discovered to my chagrin that the two diners were not praying but pecking away at their phones. However, in retrospect, I wonder if perhaps they might have been sending emails of gratitude to God.
I do not say grace over meals in restaurants. It may be because I remember a Biblical admonition: “… When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret....”