Grace Before Meals
*When I first wrote this page about grace before meals, I had no idea of how popular it would be. To be honest, I wrote it because I had something I wanted to say about the topic, but I wasn't really expecting it to be that much in demand. However, it has turned out to be one of my most visited pages! This has made me realize that there must be lots of people looking for versions of grace-before-meals to say with their children.
In the past, ‘gratitude’ was confused with ‘gratefulness’, a much more unattractive thing and so different to gratitude it could almost be considered its opposite, or at least its ugly twin. In the days when it was habitual for families to say grace before meals, it was a duty, rather than a joy. It was a manifestation of compliance and conformity, rather than of free spirits and thankful hearts.
The saying of a blessing at mealtime had a lot to do with authority----it was a test of parental authority and child obedience. Simultaneously, it was a display of god’s authority over the parents, (his children) and their obedience to him, the stern father, judging to see if they were paying him their respects.
When I was a child, I remember my mother's eyes darting around the table, to check that we were all joining in, as she rhymed off the rote prayer in an un-joyous voice.
This sort of blessing was, above all else, a disciplinary affair, and neither she, nor we, paid any attention to the words that were being said and the sentiment that was being expressed, which was actually quite beautiful. We just felt resentful at having to be compliant in saying this prayer. We resented having to ‘feel grateful’ to some authority, just so we could eat dinner.
Could we not just enjoy our dinner, without having to feel somehow unworthy? Didn’t we deserve our food? Didn’t we have the right to expect to be able to eat? Why should we feel vaguely guilty about fulfilling such a primal need?
But this ritual, before and after meals, made us feel exactly that and that is why the custom of saying grace has now largely disappeared, and rightly so. It was a hollow, meaningless ritual.
Like so many religious practices, this particular ritual completely missed the point! The point of grace before meals is 'grace' itself----to feel that wonderful feeling of being touched by grace, blessed, of momentarily feeling ourselves to be part of the divine order of things, in the firmament of creation, gifted with life, about to eat and be nourished by the fruits of the earth!
What was missing in the way we used to say grace before meals, was the gratitude. Gratitude, unlike mealy-mouthed ‘gratefulness’, is an emotion, not a duty. It is an emotion which opens our hearts to life and all its gifts. Gratefulness is subservient and disempowering. Gratitude is joyous and empowering. However much, or little, you have in life, it will benefit you much more if you feel glad to have it, rather than sad for all the things you do not have. Gratitude grounds us in what we have, rather than in what we do not have. Thus, it creates happiness, rather than sadness, positivity rather than negativity.
Who and what, we feel grateful to, can encompass the entire Cosmos, as the ultimate provider of all we have. Gratitude is a very powerful emotion. It forges a pathway of love and joy between ourselves and life. When I feel gratitude, I feel I am plugging in to all the energies of the universe. Often, we deny ourselves that luxury. When we are stressed, afraid, rushed, uptight, we deny ourselves the relaxation of gratitude, when it would be the most healing thing for us.
I believe it is good to take a moment to feel gratitude before and after eating. Gratitude is when we are aware that we are being given to. It makes us feel glad, nourished, safe, secure, blessed. These are beautiful things for children to feel. To give your children the ability of feeling, not just the love and care you give them, but also the love and care of all of creation, gives them a different footing in the world, more connected, more belonging, more wondrous, more infinite, more mystical. It literally expands their world. It brings a sense of the sacred into their everyday life.
It also sets the right tone for an harmonious atmosphere at the table. It marks the beginning and end of a meal, setting the boundaries of the occasion. It is also practical, in that everybody starts eating together and people don’t come and go from the table before all have finished.
Grace before meals doesn’t have to be a formal prayer, or even religious. Grace can be just a moment’s silence, while we become aware of the food that we are about to eat. Or it can be a simple, short blessing, like just saying, ‘Bless the meal’, or ‘Thank you for the meal’. If you have young children, it could be a rhyme, or song, perhaps something that is unique to your family that you have composed.
Here is a nice example of a simple children's grace before meals that is used in Steiner-Waldorf kindergartens:
For the golden corn and the apples on the trees
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