Saying grace before meals was once common practice for many families. You don’t see it as much these days. My husband was raised Roman Catholic and tells me that growing up, grace was said before every meal. Wash your hands, say grace, dig in. There was even a grace after meals, and just to make sure you crossed yourself and dotted all the “I”s your school made you say grace before you left for lunch and when you got back to school.
When we get together with his family at festive occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas, one member of the family is always called upon to “Say Grace.” The grace is always the same, it is a quick recitation that is rattled off in a one-breath monotone, and ends in a flutter of arm waving and a chorus of Amen. My husband says that’s the way Catholic prayers are supposed to be said; an emotionless chant that allows no room for second thoughts, extemporization or interpretation. Someone who knows more about these things than we do developed that prayer, it is concise and perfect, it says all the right things without need for meandering or ad-libbing, it thanks God, it blesses us, and these, “Thy gifts.” Like most prayers, he says, it is recited like a get out of jail free card, a prophylactic invocation that will make the Big Man Upstairs happy and will keep us in his good graces.
“Grace before meals is the prayer said most often in homes around the world, an act of worship common to every known society. The universal experience of sharing food fundamentally connects people to one another, to nature and to the infinite.” So reads the intro to Adrian Butash’s Bless this Food- ancient & contemporary graces from around the world.
Butash has collected upwards of one hundred and fifty short, meaningful and often beautiful graces, prayers and reflections that run the gamut from the world’s major religions to the works of great poets and thinkers. Sufi prayers, Chinese meditations, Yiddish proverbs, prayers of thanks from Native North America cultures and poems from Walt Whitman, Shakespeare and thoughts from Mohandas Gandhi, all attest to the enduring and universal power of thanks to someone- divine or secular-that all civilizations and all faiths express over the celebration over the most ubiquitous and important of all life sustaining needs; food. Even those who have no direct identification with any religion like to give thanks and say a few welcoming words to their guests, and they will probably find it in this little book.
Here is one of my favourites, from Walt Whitman,
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the Earth, and the minutest thing on it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect;
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids perfect.
Slowly and surely they have pass’d on to this ,and slowly and surely they pass on.
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality.