It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.
When I was growing up, "church" wasn't a terribly important thing for my family. My sister and I went to Sunday School on the regular, and my mom took us to church in what I'd call sporadic fits and starts. (My dad rarely went with us.) I sang in the choir for awhile in middle school, and went to a few youth group activities now and again. I went through confirmation in 8th grade. But . . . let's just say I didn't find what many others find in organized religion.
We did, though, say grace before every evening meal throughout my childhood. It went like this: GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankhimForourfoodAmen. Just those words, all slurred together. Every night. Eventually, as my sister and I got older, we just . . . stopped.
Fast forward several years: Children of my own. Tom and I took them to church and Sunday School throughout their childhoods. We found a church that we liked, and so we dabbled in oganized religion for a while (until our minister retired, and we discovered it was him that made our experience special, not the church).
Anyway. We did, as the kids grew up, say grace before every evening meal -- a very familiar prayer: GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankhimForourfoodAmen. Eventually, as the kids grew older and made the whole thing more like a game of who could get the words out faster, we just . . . stopped.
Saying those "grace words" - or not saying them - had no real bearing on the gratitude we felt for our meals. Not when I was a child; not when I was a parent of young kids; not now. But those words did create a pause-before-eating; a chance to separate our eating a meal from the rest of our lives. I would argue that "saying grace" before a meal doesn't actually need to include any words (rote memorization or spontaneous prayer) at all. For me, "grace" . . . is a pause. Just a quiet moment of gratitude for the meal before the eating begins. A pause . . . to acknowledge that our food didn't just appear out of thin air! Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, cooked it. And for that, we are grateful.
So tomorrow, as we gather in whatever form we're mustering this year, I encourage you to . . . pause . . . before digging in. Fill it with words if that's your thing. Or don't feel guilty about silence if words aren't your thing.
"Gratefulness -- 'great fullness,' as Brother David Steindle-Rast reminds us, 'is the full response of the human heart to the gratuitousness of all that is.' Truly every single thing we have has been given to us, not necessarily because we deserved it, but gratuitously, for no known reason. And whatever source we believe is the giver - some concept of God or simply the breathtaking randomness of the universe - when we give thanks, we take our place in the great wheel of life, recognizing our connection to one another and to all of creation. Offering a blessing, reminds Brother Steindle-Rast, 'plugs us into the aliveness of the whole world.'"
-- M.J. Ryan, in the introduction to A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles
Plug into the "aliveness of the whole world," my friends.
There is much to be grateful for -- and many ways to offer a blessing.