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A moment’s grace

September 10, 2010

Does anybody ever say grace anymore? A while ago a friend confessed an unusual phobia: he lived in terror of being asked to say grace before a meal. The old fear of public speaking turned up a notch by the requirement for solemnity and reverence, I suppose. I forgot about that amusing moment until a few weeks ago when we dined with friends and their kids at a celebratory meal, and one of the guests said a few words of grace before we tucked in, and I found it a lovely gesture.

Even though I grew up in a solidly Mass-attending Catholic family, I don’t recall saying grace regularly at all – it was always said at Christmas dinner or some other special meal, but the idea of giving thanks for food on a daily basis was not big in our house.  Perhaps it’s more a Protestant thing? What about Judaism – in such a food-based culture I imagine it’s pretty standard? But whatever our religious or cultural origins, grace certainly isn’t said much among my circle nowadays, and even a quick Google search comes up with the name of a removal company before suggestions of how to say grace. Often thanks is given to the hosts or the cook, but that’s not the same thing at all as gratitude for the luck and grace that has brought the food (and the friends!) to the table.

All this has made me wonder if it might be possible to come up with some way of ritually expressing thanks for the enormous good fortune that brings such good, fresh food to our table in such abundance that we find it shamefully unremarkable. The trouble is that grace is traditionally said to God, and if you don’t believe in him there’s a bit of a problem. Alternatively, thanking The Universe or whatever is a tad too hippie-dippy (or ‘oogyboogy’ as my friend Peter the painter says)  for my taste and would surely embarrass my grace-fearing friend even more that the trad version.

But maybe we don’t have to thank any divine force in particular; perhaps all that’s required is simply to be thankful, and raise a glass in that gratitude.

Would love your thoughts. Did any of you say grace in your childhoods? What kind? Do you still do it? Or if you aren’t religious, have you come up with any other way of marking this kind of thankfulness?

6 comments

  1. My parents are both Muslim so there was no grace at our table, however growing up, there was grace said at lot’s of Anglo tables I sat at. It was always such a strange ritual to me.

    But I do love the idea of expressing our thankfulness and good fortune to have what we have and those special people in our lives to share it with.

    If you find an non-oogyboogy alternative I’d love to hear it.


  2. In my Aussie family, we (the kids, cousins, boyfriends/girlfriends) used to go to my Uncle’s every Sunday evening for a beautiful dinner that he would have spent all afternoon cooking for us, and before starting we would each tell about our Magic Moment of the week. Sounds a bit cheesy, but it was actually quite cool, and some good stories would come out of it! It’s not about giving thanks for the food in particular, but a good way to hear everyone and share news with the family 🙂


  3. My boys went to a Steiner kindy. Before they ate a meal they lit a candle and sang this song:

    Earth who gives to us this food
    Sun who makes it ripe and good
    Dear Earth, Dear Sun
    Thanks we give to everyone.
    Blessings on the meal
    and a happy happy day
    and peace upon the Earth.

    Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written The Five Contemplations:

    This food is the gift of the whole universe –

    the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

    May we eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy to receive it.

    May we transform our unskilful states of mind

    and learn to eat in moderation.

    May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.

    We accept this food so that we may realise the path of understanding and love.

    I’ve been at meals where this was said amongst hundreds of Vietnamese Buddhists in Sydney, in silence. There are English and Vietnamese versions.

    http://www.slowmovement.com/forum/index.php?topic=18.new

    I like them.


  4. The closest I can think of to giving thanks was recently written about in a Sunday paper column. The writer suggested simply that we should eat with thought and consideration. Taking the time to actually taste the food that we put in our mouths and appreciate the flavours and textures of the food and the efforts of those who work to bring us the meal – not just shove one mouthful after another down our gobs (for which I am guilty). This doesn’t have to be a verbal thing but a quiet reflection on the preparation of the meal from ‘ground’ to table.


  5. Nice work, kids. Alice you have hit the nail on the head I think – and thanks for all suggestions. Mindfulness is the thing, I am thinking.


  6. We always toast the beginning of a meal – any meal will do, on our own or with others – and that’s definitely a moment of thanks. It doesn’t matter what’s in the glass you’re raising.

    I think I especially like the idea that toasts acknowledge being together, as well as the bounty, and how fortunate we are for that too.



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