Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bless This Food

The other day, I was thinking about a curious habit that a lot of religious people have, asking the blessing at meals. When I was a kid, we did it before every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I still remember the words: "God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Bow our heads, we are fed, give us Lord our daily bread." I remember wondering why we were so thankful for bread when we were eating tacos, but I was just a kid. When I got a little older, I figured out that grown-ups usually ask the blessing a little differently. My mother used to use, "Our heavenly father, we ask you to bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies..." Except for really long-winded blessings like the preacher would say when we had fellowship at the church, it usually always boils down to the same idea, "Hey, thanks for the food, God, I really 'preciate it!" I never understood why my mom would use such fancy words when that short sentence pretty much covered it and would allow us to eat a lot sooner.

I'm reminded of something one of my sisters said when I was little. In her defense, she was little, too. I was about to eat something before the blessing was properly asked, and she quickly admonished me: "You can't eat before asking the blessing, you'll choke!" So for a few years after that, I always dutifully asked the blessing not out of any particular sense of gratitude, but for fear that God would smite me Darth Vader-style, unable to breathe for not doing so. I also remember a few pieces of food going down the wrong pipe now and then and thinking that I must have somehow screwed it up. Only after numerous repeated observations of people eating without audibly asking the blessing first did I figure out that failure to ask the blessing correctly and choking were probably unrelated events.

I find it curious that people express such divine gratitude for food. I mean sure, we all need it to survive, but it's not like God gives us the stuff for free. Since I'm not a hunter and my greenest thumb is pasty white, I have to go to work to earn money for the food I buy and eat, and since I usually have to just grab something very quickly on the run, most of what I eat isn't exactly manna from heaven. People don't ask the blessing for other stuff they have to work for and buy, do they? "God is great, God is good, thank you for this chair of wood..."

They don't ask the blessing for other life essentials, either. I mean, think about it, water is even more essential to life, but I've never seen someone bow their head over a water fountain thanking God for it, and most of the time, it IS free or at least trivially cheap. No one asks the blessing for walking into their comfortable shelter, or when they put on their nice warm winter coat. "God is great, God is good, thank you for this coat with hood..."

Is it too much of a shortcut to express gratitude for what you've eaten during the day during your nightly prayers? "Lord now lay me down to sleep, I pray my Lord my soul to keep. Thanks a lot, the food was great, my hunger it did satiate..." Sure would save everyone a lot of time, and would probably avoid a few awkward situations when people are eating in public and such.

When I started school, we all had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. You couldn't just stand up and say, "Sure, I'll be loyal to the U.S.A.," it was a specific set of words. For those like most Americans who have forgotten it, the complete verse is: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Even though I recited this from my first day of school, I had no idea what the word "allegiance" meant, what a republic was, or even the concept of indivisibility (I actually remember calling our country "invisible" for several years). I was simply reciting something from rote that I really didn't understand at all.

I suspect that for most people, the same is true of asking the blessing. It's just a habit, something you picked up from your parents as a kid. That's why "the blessing" is a noun, like "the pledge." It seems to me that if people were genuine, they wouldn't say they were asking "the blessing," they would say that they were asking for God to bless--a verb--the food they were about to eat. By trivializing it to a mere recitation, in my mind, they are completely missing the point of the process. I would think that God would rather have one be inconsistently but genuinely grateful than consistently trite.

I don't ask the blessing myself, and I honestly can't remember the last time I did. But if I did, I would try to do it in such a way to express how much I appreciate this meal at this particular point in time. It wouldn't be a cute little poem, it would be in language I would use to thank a good friend for a gift. Let's see, something like, "Thanks, God, you know how much I like lasagne, and this lasagne really smells great. I'm guessing the cheese is really gooey, and man, am I looking forward to that! The salad dressing was a little runny. I still liked it, but if you've got some pull with the manager, you might want to give him a sign or something so that the next set of folks that come through will be even more grateful. But hey, I'm going to go ahead and dig in now before it gets cold, so thanks again!"

I suppose you'll have to decide for yourself what a proper blessing is, but hopefully I've gotten you to think about it a little. And if I ever die from choking on a really good lasagne, you'll know I screwed it up.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger Stan said...

My two cents worth.

The ability to have life or live (and therefore eat) is recognized as a gift from God. Since food (in the past) was particularly difficult to obtain, it held special favor with people. Thanks were given, speeches made and prayers lifted for sustenance. Of course there was the whole “manna thing” to be thankful for. Even for its leftovers dissolving each day (all but for a special portion designated to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant).

As for wrote recitations, both prayer and pledges are taught so that when children mature to the point of asking “what am I really saying” they will have the words with which to investigate said meanings at the ready. What you learned as a child was you were to take time each day to honor your nation with an oath. The words were meaningless at the time but the act of pausing was what was learned.

Prayer at mealtime is a chance to stop and be thankful for the God given talents and abilities to earn the money used to buy the food or the ability to capture, clean and cook it. It still is an important part of anyone’s day, typically celebrated three times a day.

Potential drowning victims that struggle beneath the waves gasping for air could be said to be thankful for each breath. Although just as thankful we do not stop and say a prayer of thanks for each breath, we tend to focus on those things we are thankful for at certain times, bedtimes, mealtimes and when our feet are once again on solid ground.

It is really simply to me, God provides all and some people want to show thanks. If you do not believe you were created, then you will have no desire to thank a creator for anything, will you?

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Jason said...

An excellent collection of observations and conclusions. If only more people thought about why they're praying and what they're saying when they do it.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote "but it's not like God gives us the stuff for free". What is sure is that God gives us the ability to get the stuff. Without God, you would simply starve. And starve for more than food, dear.

I'll bet that if you own a Bible, you'd use it to prop open a door or do closed surgery on a ganglion cyst.

You sound ever so intelligent, and I'm not just saying that. So go and get your doorstop and turn to Proverbs. ANY one of them. And see if you do not agree with the author, who by the way, is God Himself.

God bless you, my dear.


At 12:32 PM, Blogger Skippus said...

I'm not sure how useful a Bible would be in surgery...

Really, I hope that religious people get something from this post, too. The point is not to get you to stop asking the blessing. If you want to, do it.

The point is to get you to think about your blessing. Don't just do it because it's what you've always done. And for God's sake (literally), don't just recite a little poem or some stock words that you learned from your parents.

If you're thankful, be thankful, not trite.

Think about it this way. If every time you gave someone a Christmas present, they recited a little poem—the same poem that everyone recites—to thank you, would it mean anything? I doubt it. After a while, you'd just be like, "Yeah, whatever." But if someone instead wrote you a nice little unique thank-you note, it would likely make a far greater impression.

I'm also obviously amused that people put so much ceremony into asking the blessing before each meal. I have to believe the God doesn't really care when you ask the blessing or how you ask the blessing, just that you're thankful. I guess we each express gratitude for being happy, healthy, and having things like nice meals in our own way, but to me, a rote blessing isn't gratitude, it's mere habit.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Danny said...

Very well written. We do need to start thinking about these things.

God bless,

At 11:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Skippus. I enjoyed reading your blog. I am, however, perplexed as to why you would give such thought to this subject since you admit not giving thanks. Never the less, it is a valid topic. I have been trying to get my own children to quit saying the repetitive prayers that I taught them when they were younger. They are 11 and 12 now and are very capable of constructing meaningful prayers of thanks from the heart.
But I think I can offer some insight as to why the pious prayers are said in the first place. First off I think some people say them for show. If you sound fancy surely you are close to God the Father. But remember, religious people were the ones in the bible that were reprimanded by Jesus himself more times than one. Second, I think people say pious prayers to put on a front. They don’t want others to know that they don’t have a clue when it comes to talking with God so they reach for the ‘prepackaged prayers’. Repeating the ones they’ve heard before a million times in some cases. I think we've got it all wrong when we have a religion and leave out our relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus. In real life it is difficult to carry on a conversation with someone you truly don't know. Same goes for prayer. When you try to communicate with Jesus, someone you haven't really met spiritually, you probably just repeat what you've heard other people say. It really makes a difference getting to know Him. I hope you will. God Bless and again, great topic.
post by Tonya


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