“For the earth that gives us food,
Ripened by the sun and good;
All the hands that brought it here,
and our friends both far and near.
May our thanks be shown in care,
and the ways we love and share.”
I was talking with my friend Lori the other day about the end of summer and the beginning of school. Lori works with the youngest of school kids, and she had been asked to come up with a grace the children could say before their meal. She was asking me, her “pastor” friend, if I knew of a grace that young children could learn. She wanted it note our connection to the earth and all of our fellow creatures. And also, with her kids coming from such a wide variety of backgrounds, she wanted to avoid any specific reference to God.
With those parameters in mind, I googled “saying grace.” What came up was a fascinating blend of excellent advice, absolute foolishness, and many lists of the top five, or ten, or one hundred “graces” for all occasions.
One article especially caught my attention. The author offered helpful guidelines for the “manners” of saying grace. Highlights included “Don’t start eating before grace is said,” and “Always ask people privately if they will be ok with saying grace before asking them publicly.” By the way, I have broken both of those rules. More than once.
I grew up in a home where grace was only said at Thanksgiving, and then it consisted of reciting The Lord’s Prayer together. We always started out strong, but inevitably stumbled when we got to the place where we had to choose between “trespasses” and “debts.”
These days I find myself saying grace often, especially when I have friends over to share a meal. I also, of course, am often called on “professionally” to bless a meal. The etiquette article specifically notes: “If one is present, a member of the clergy usually takes the place of the host to say grace.” Sometimes friends do ask me for a pre-meal prayer when I am present. Some I suspect do not say grace when I’m not there, especially when one or more family members who have already started eating put their heads down and try to slip the fork or spoon back on the table surreptitiously.
All of which brings me back to my friend’s request. Of course she would call her “member of the clergy” friend to ask about a grace for kids. In her mind I am an expert. But the reality is, we all are invited to be saying grace all the time.
The word “grace” in English is translated from the Greek word “charis” which means “gift.” You see that root of gift turned into gratitude in the Latin “gratia” and the Spanish “gracias.”
So that’s what grace is. An opportunity to stop and say thank you. One can certainly say grace without referring to some specific belief in God. Grace is simply an opportunity to acknowledge that none of us is independent. We need one another. We need the gifts that are shared, all around us, with every one of us. Of course, in my mind that includes God, the Great Mystery. But gratitude is definitely non-sectarian.
Living an ungrateful life is a certain path to living a destructive life. Refusing to acknowledge our connections leads to a multitude of problems, some of which, like climate change, are catastrophic.
So any time we stop and say “thank you,” we are saying grace. When we commit to living sustainably within creation, we are saying grace. When we recognize all of the gifts of community that sustain us, we are saying grace. When we work to undo injustices that have kept us separate from others, we are saying grace.
In the end, I never did find an online “grace” to pass on to Lori. Instead, I wrote one. It is at the beginning of this post. It is not particularly original or deep. But this “grace” does invite the ones saying it into gratitude and connection.
And, it can be sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”