Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Saying Grace (All-Ages Homily, Sunday Before Thanksgiving)

All-Ages Service, November 23, 2008

Family Minister           UU Society of Sacramento, CA

Saying Grace

One summer day I was back in my Indiana home town, having lunch with a group of my late mother’s cousins.  As we sat down to the table, one asked me “Roger, would you return thanks?”  He meant: would I say grace. The remarkable thing about this is that I had not been in the habit of saying grace, or hearing it, while growing up in my churchgoing Protestant family in that small town in the Midwest.  I didn’t get into the practice of saying grace until I was in my late 20s, after I had become a Unitarian Universalist.

This is what I prayed before lunch:  “Dear God, we give you thanks for the gift of life and the gift of this new day, for the blessing of reunion and joyful memories, for this food, and for the hands that have prepared it.  We call to mind those who are no longer with us but who live in our hearts.  May this food nourish us so that we can be more kind, generous, and loving. Amen.”

Learning grace as a UU has taught me the wide-open possibilities for saying thanks, whether or not we believe in God or mention the divine at all.  At a ministers’ support group in the late ‘90s, a colleague gave the blessing for a meal.  She included thanks for the farm workers, the truckers, and those who prepared and served our food.  Thus did I learn that grace is not just a nice ritual, but an opportunity for ethical reflection.

As children, many of us grow up learning the value of saying thank you for a favor, a gift, a helping hand, or a compliment from another person.  Why not acknowledge other sources of help and goodness?  In addition to thanking people, how about thanking the great cosmic mystery from which all abundance emerges?  Some say God, others bring to mind the web of inter-connected beings and elements, and the energy that holds it all together and welcomes us as a part of the whole.  The practice of giving thanks can take many forms.

            It’s my impression that more families have mealtime rituals nowadays than when I was growing up, whether they’re in a more conservative religious tradition, in a UU church, or none at all.  One family in this church is making a collection of songs to sing and words to say aloud for their mealtime ritual.  Here’s their current favorite:

Earth who gives to us this food,

Sun who makes it ripe and good,

Dear Sun above and Earth below,

Our loving thanks to you we show.

Blessings on our meal, our friends, our family and on us, and may peace be on Earth.

Blessed be.

In an earlier church of mine I dined with a family whose blessing included remembering those who are hungry or homeless, both people and dogs and cats.  Such a ritual can be a magical time, a sacred moment. I know middle-aged couples with no children, and those with none at home anymore, who sit down at the table, join hands, close their eyes, and breathe in silence for a few moments.

I know a couple in retirement.  Every evening they make a light supper, close a heavy curtain over the doorway into their dining area and light a votive candle.  Then one of them reads from the book A Grateful Heart, a collection of poems and prayers for mealtime. But even if we are eating alone, we can take a moment for gratitude.  My Buddhist meditation teachers have suggested that we pause and look at the food on the plate, noticing its colors and textures and smells, and then eat with a bit more attention and pacing.  Of course, this solo practice is easier for me to do when the news is not on the radio, I’m not reading a magazine, and the laptop computer is not open on the table. In other words, I rarely do it.

Here’s mealtime grace used by another family in this congregation:

We are grateful for all our gifts

We are safe, calm, and patient

We trust in the process of life

Peace and harmony fill us and surround us

All is well

Amen

            I want to tell you about my stealth grace.  When I am out with friends for a meal, and the food is served I might say, “Well, I am grateful to be alive, to have a place to live and a job I love, to have this food, and to be here with you.” Once a friend responded [with a skeptical tone] “Okaaay…”  Another said, “Yes!  Me too.” One friend responds, amen!  Another one likes to recount what he is grateful for.  Sometimes when I’m dining with others, I simply ask, “Are we not blessed?  To have this food and be safe and be here together…. Are we not blessed?”  Who but a crank is going to say no!

Many people know the value of making what’s called a gratitude list.  No matter how burdened we may feel, no matter how unfair life can be, this practice can shift our perspective and help us recognize the blessings we do have.  Over time, perhaps, the attitude of gratitude, and the practice of giving thanks, can lift our spirits.

Recently a colleague sent an email summarizing a children’s book she recommended.  The secret, the message of the book, she said is this:  You don’t become grateful by being happy.  You become happy by being grateful.

There are so many gifts in life, which we perhaps can recognize if we take some time.  Let us show our thanks in ways that are true and right for us.  May we remember to look for reasons both great and small for giving thanks, and may doing so increase our happiness.  Perhaps this is what it means to say, Happy Thanksgiving.  So may it be.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I thank you!
for trying to make the idea of “Grace” more acceptable to those of us who left it behind along with the religion we discarded or disdain. Now i need to remember some of your ideas ( or sneaky ways), since i have also left behind some of my memory powers! Doesnt hurt to remind ‘us’- your sheep.
nancy g

Comment by nancy g

A meme has been floating around facebook among my friends lately, all of whom are parents. It really resonated with me and while not specifically for mealtime, I find myself saying it when I feel overwhelmed. It puts things in perspective for me.

“I am thankful for the my dirty dishes because it means I have food to feed my family. I am thankful for the messy house because it means I have a roof over my head. I am thankful for the dirty laundry because it means I have clothes for my family. I am thankful for the noise the children are making because it means they are happy and healthy.”

Comment by Tamara W.




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