“Saying Grace” or “Giving Thanks” before a meal used to be a part of our everyday life. Now, it is a rarity reserved for the deeply religious, and endured in uncomfortable silence by the rest.
In Catholic School in the early 1960’s I learned to pray a set of ritual prayers before and after each meal. Then, as a young adult in the evangelical church of the early 1970’s, I learned the art of the extemporaneous prayer (making it up as you go) – the giving of thanks for anything and everything that came to mind, including the food and the hands that had prepared it. These prayers always ended with, “we pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen”. Then there was the traditional protestant Grace at my in-laws family table. “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.
Once I left the Church I found it difficult to pray at all, including giving thanks before meals. For years, now, I have struggled with that awkward moment where Grace used to be. Dinner is on the table, the cook sits down, and we pause… “Bon Appetite!”, we might say to each other and dig in without a word or thought of gratitude.
Recently a friend suggested that I read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful book, “Braiding Sweet Grass”. Robin writes from the perspective of an indigenous woman from the northeastern United States. She is a Professor of Botany who delights in teaching others the lessons that can be learned from the plants and animals around them. She teaches us to consider ourselves as a part of the natural environment rather than setting ourselves apart and above.
Robin’s words have opened my eyes to a new perspective on the natural world – the indigenous teaching of an economy of gifts, rather than commodities and ownership.
Mother Earth has given us everything we need to thrive. What has our response been to her gifts? To grasp and hoard, own and sell, scrape and destroy, until She can no longer give, only weep.
What would happen if we made the shift to seeing all of the natural world as a gift?
A gift economy implies reciprocity. What have we got to give back to Mother Earth? How can we reciprocate such extravagant giving?
Let us begin with gratitude – giving thanks. Let us begin with Grace.
Perhaps I can adapt the old version that my father-in-law murmured before each meal:
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”.
Maybe…but how about:
“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”
What the difference? Responsibility.
In the original we abdicate responsibility to “the Lord”. “Make me grateful”, we say, as though we cannot generate gratitude for ourselves.
How can we generate feelings of gratitude from within ourselves?
Through our attention. Where is your attention? Why do we call it “paying” attention?
This giving of our attention – noticing and noting – is the beginning of gratitude. It is the beginning of giving back.
Perhaps it is time to begin again – giving thanks before our meals. Taking a moment to pay attention to the gifts of the earth, the plants and the animals, as well as the farmers and cooks.
Attention will generate gratitude and awareness. Awareness will lead us to more attention. Attention to food sources that are nurturing the earth rather than poisoning her. Attention to supporting our ailing planet as she gasps for breath.
The scale of the challenge to save the planet is so massive that it is easy to feel paralyzed. What if we begin again with the simple act of Giving Thanks, Saying Grace, with paying attention to the gifts of the earth and expressing gratitude?
“For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful”.