|Jozef Israels (1824-1911) Saying Grace|
"Saying Grace" is a religious tradition that spans most faiths. The idea is to give thanks to God for our food, and ask Him to bless it. In my LDS experience, few have called it "Saying Grace". To me, it has always been either "Bless the Food," or "Say the Prayer."
I think I prefer "Saying Grace."
I did have a missionary companion who took the idea of "blessing the food" to a much more literal level than I had seen before. We would bow our heads at the table, and he would pronounce the blessing, which would be something like this:
"In the name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the priesthood, we bless this food for our use. Amen."
As a junior companion, I never took it upon myself to say, "Are you nuts?" but I did gently broach the subject once as to the appropriateness of his mealtime prayer. His response was that it was similar to a priesthood ordinance, and we had the priesthood.
This was new and strange to me, and the idea didn't stick. Mostly because he did not use the specific word that is supposed to be used in all Mormon food blessings. That word is:
He didn't even try to incorporate the word into his prayer - let alone run it together correctly. Heretic. I just stuck with the tried-and-true that I had been raised with. Yep. I had my own vain repetitions, and I was gonna use them. Still do.
When we "bless the food", are we "blessing the food?" Aren't we really asking God to bless the food? Sometimes it feels a bit silly. I have smiled many times while listening to someone "bless" the donuts or cookies to make us healthy. I have also felt the food go cold around me, and peeked to see a crusty layer form on the top of the gravy, as someone turns the mealtime prayer into an endurance event.
To me, the most important part of "Saying Grace" is "Grace." The word itself teaches us a lot. The Latin and Greek origins meant "favor," or "thankful," or "praises." All elements that were lacking in the blessing by my companion.
We use the word "grace" in our worship. It means an unmerited sanctification through divine assistance. Christ gives us grace. We are saved by grace. (Ephesians 2:8)
Could it be that our grace brings about God's grace and sanctifies our meal? Doesn't coming to God with a humility and gratitude sanctify us as well?
The part of my companion's prayer that bothered me was the complete lack of gratitude - the complete lack of grace in his edict. Even though I say the words "We are thankful for his food," most of the time, my prayers lack grace as well. On occasion, I will feel the words, but far too often, it is a tradition for tradition's sake.
I know, there are only so many ways to pray over a plate of food, and I'm not suggesting this is a big deal that will keep us out of heaven - but I am suggesting that every little bit of sincere gratitude we express to our God is a good thing.
Our family sits at the table to say grace. We kneel for family prayers, and keep the two distinct. (We like warm food) Family prayers are much more detailed, involved and longer. We like to keep mealtime prayers short. Not ridiculously short - but on topic.
Sometimes we bring carry-out home, and we always pray over it. I have always expressed gratitude for my EC when she prepares a meal. So I decided to start expressing gratitude fro the people who prepared my food - even if it came from Pizza Hut. I like the feel of it, and the kids have picked it up too.
Blessing a table of cheesecakes so that God will nourishandstrengthenourbodiesanddousthegoodthatweneed can feel silly, but I have no problem at all expressing gratitude to God and the people who provided the cheesecake. Cheesecake is delicious, and God should be thanked for inspiring whoever invented it.
I don't pray over my food in public. Often I will see a devout person with their head briefly bowed before they dig into their chicken sandwich at Wendy's - I don't do it - but I admire and respect those who do. I have seen couples who hold hands and pray in restaurants - out loud. I don't have much use for that...
It is easy to find things to be thankful for, and to express gratitude during this season. It is harder when you are eating leftover whatever, and you know you are going to be late for your meeting...
Today as you gather around the table, pause for a moment and think about "Saying Grace." The question may not be as to what you are going to say, rather...do you mean it?
1) Here is an interesting link to BeliefNet, where members of different faiths share their mealtime prayers. (here)
2) What are your family traditions regarding blessing the food? I would be curious to know -especially those from other countries.
3) Yes, I have heard "Sons of Provo."