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.