Grace Before Meals…and After

Sharon November 26th, 2008

Most Americans will soon be sitting down to one of the most formal meals they’ll enjoy this year, and many of them will say a grace or blessing before their meal.  And as no other time of year, we are forced to ask - to whom are we grateful?

The answer, of course, depends on the meal we are serving.  For some of us, the links that tie our grace to our food are fairly clear.  I’m visiting family in Coastal Massachusetts whose ties to the turkey are quite direct - it was raised at my farm, by me, Eric and the kids.  Its feed was grown 20 miles from me, on a farm that has raised grain quite literally since the American revolution.  Onions and squash came from my mother and step-mother’s community garden, cranberries from Cape Cod, potatoes from a farm in nearby Maine.  

Other items came from the supermarket or other sites in the industrial food system, and have more complex chains of gratitude - we can thank the trucker who hauled the sweet potatoes from North Carolina alongside with the farmer that grew them and the migrant laborers who harvested them; the manufacturer who built the equipment that transforms corn into its constituent parts and thus produced the corn syrup that flavors the ginger ale (lest you think that ours is a super-pure crunchy thanksgiving) in the kids’ Shirley Temples (its a Grandmother thing), the farmer who grew the corn on this, his third straight year of corn on that soil, the genetic engineer who bred the corn and inserted the genes into it and the congressman who voted to subsidize corn.  But should we?  Certainly, their labor is inscribed in our food, and they are owed something.  But was it worthy of grace?

The problem with saying grace is that it can get you into tricky places.  For those who believe that God is involved in all of this, it gets trickier still.  Faiths may have theological differences, some quite major, but most of us agree that there’s a partnership of sorts with God involved.  That is, we thank the farmer who grows the food, and we thank forth God who brings forth bread from the earth.  We thank the vintner who made the wine, and God who sent the rains.  At the end of the day, most theists will be thanking God for the food - and thus, implicating God in the food.

But it isn’t always clear that we should be grateful for the food we have - sure, we should recognize that we are fortunate to have full bellies in a world of hunger.  But is there no more than that?  Do we have the right to a world in which we are truly grateful for our food, because it comes from sources that enrich us, and serve our interests?  If we believe that God is a participant in our works, does it matter whether those works are good ones?  Do the things that enchain us to the sources of our food create reciprocal obligations in us?  Might we not have an obligation to make sure that everyone who deserves gratitude is thanked, and thus, that we understand our food’s origin in a new and deeper way?

That’s no easy proposition, and I don’t claim that simple solutions are readily available.  But if our grace is to be something other than simple rote, something that might call down genuine Grace upon us, or give us a sense of a life filled with grace, we are going to have to find a way, not just to spend a few moments being thankful, but to create something worthy of appreciation.

 Happy Thanksgiving, to them that are celebrating.


14 Responses to “Grace Before Meals…and After”

  1. Shambaon 26 Nov 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I will be giving thanks for the good things in my life certainly including food!

    there are those who think that even the bad things, and “bad” people in our lives, are our best teachers. I think that principle works so I should be thankful also for the “bad” things in my life. However, I find that difficult to work with so–and especially lately I find that difficult to work with–so, I’m going to be more thankful for the good things in life tomorrow, that includes the internet and blog connections that I go to,

    So, to You, Sharon and All of You out There, Happy thanksgiving and enjoy your day off whatever you do,


  2. Greenpaon 26 Nov 2008 at 2:21 pm

    There are times, my dear dear Sharon, when I am thankful I am not as thoughtful as you are.


    Food; good. Family, good. Sharing, good.

    All done! Cheers!

  3. Karinon 26 Nov 2008 at 4:09 pm

    We sing grace every evening at dinner. It is something my husbands family does whenever they get together.

    We have change the lyrics a little to reflect our own faith.

    “Evening Has Come”

    Evening has come the board is set,
    Thanks be to the earth who giveth bread.
    Praise the earth for food. Om.

    The other is for every other meal. Our 2 year old is pretty hardcore about us singing at every meal.

    “For Health and Strength”

    ‘For health and strength and daily food.
    We give thee thanks oh earth. Om”

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. risa bon 26 Nov 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Thank YOU for this post.

    The kids have demanded turkey and we didn’t get in line for a heritage — but other than this horrible lapse, much of tomorrow’s dinner is from the home place.

    meanwhile, a neighbor who hears better than I was visiting, out on the driveway, and cocked his head to the north and said, “Wow. Elk.”

    Yes, I told him. They come down from the mountain and cross the river to hang out in the county park.

    So we stood and listened awhile.

    Blessings to you and yours.

  5. Brad K.on 26 Nov 2008 at 9:22 pm


    Every time we purchase or barter for something, we show honor and respect to the person we deal with. When we deal repeatedly with a person, our choice about whom to deal with conveys a deeper degree of thanks and respect.

    When we choose to raise our food, or buy locally, our choice is essentially philosophical. Repeating the choice, returning to the same sources, shows gratitude, shows respect. And as we consciously act to grow and nurture community resources, we contribute to our community.

    Grace is undeserved love, I am told. We give thanks, not to ask for grace, or because we believe grace will follow. We give thanks at a meal that the civic and social and economic choices we have made have been blessed with fruits, of whatever sort.

    The choices we make to encourage local providers is essentially secular. The grace and blessings that our attentions bestow on our neighbors, or that we experience in our own lives, are secular. We do not stand in God’s stead. But the blessings our neighbors receive from dealing with us are as much grace from God as just rewards of their economic choices and efforts.

    I think saying grace at table is an honest and pious act. And the way we deal with our neighbors and merchants and family should every day simplify their rejoicing in the blessings in their lives.

    Blessed be!

  6. Leila Abu-Sabaon 27 Nov 2008 at 12:13 am

    “But if our grace is to be something other than simple rote, something that might call down genuine Grace upon us, or give us a sense of a life filled with grace, we are going to have to find a way, not just to spend a few moments being thankful, but to create something worthy of appreciation.” A beautiful, heartfelt sentiment, and yet since you brought up God and theology, I must respectfully put forth that I don’t live by this principle.

    Grace means a gift poured forth unasked and undeserved. I believe God’s grace pours out upon, rises up from within everything, everyone, stone and bird and human. Life and being-ness - all is an unasked-for gift.

    I give thanks for God’s grace: for food and water and birds and friends and everything that comes (and goes). It falleth upon me like rain. I do not feel that I must create something worthy of appreciation just to merit that grace. I am simply very very grateful.

    Thank God I am moved to create some thing or other each day - a little order, or a meal, or the recognition of love where it was forgotten or in hiding, or forgiveness, or yes maybe “something worthy of appreciation.” But I don’t have to do this to merit grace. Grace happens - to me and to you and to the birds and the lilies of the field.

    I have forgotten now which mystic said that the only prayer anyone really needs is “thank you.”

    Thank you, all of you, and thank Sharon especially for provoking us to think and also to contemplate grace, gratitude, and the salvation of what really matters.

  7. SurvivalTopics.comon 27 Nov 2008 at 10:25 am

    What it comes down to is the earth is one interconnected whole - you cannot really pull out one entity and give only thanks to that. Without the chain of interdependency fucntioning properly, from the ecosystem to the farmer to the transportation system … we would all starve.

  8. TheNormalMiddleon 27 Nov 2008 at 11:18 am

    Thanksigiving is perhaps my favorite holiday of all because it is what it is—without a bunch of politics or hoopla. It is being with family, thanking God or whomever you choose for another year of life and family, hearth and home.

    It isn’t commercialized (at least not too much, yet) and it is just simple and easy.

    At least in our house anyway.

    In our family we have both Christians and Jewish relatives who share a table at every holiday, and we have shared December holidays as well…and surprisingly, it is not complicated. I love it. My children are learning a multitude of traditions and it is serving them well.

    As for me and my house, we will thank God today for what we have, even if it might be meager this year.

  9. Basiaon 27 Nov 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Bhank you Sharon, and thank you everybody…

  10. Leslieon 28 Nov 2008 at 5:41 am

    Thank you for this post. It brings up the vital issue of consistency.

    I think there are misunderstandings about grace and what causes it to flow. Saying grace does not cause Grace to flow, as I understand it. However, being grateful is our obligation and our joy as human beings. Saying grace before meals can transform it into that which is truly nourishing.

    But if we are considering ourselves as humans who love to give thanks for what He gives, then it seems to me that we should also be humans who adjust themselves to live as He would have us live. He has given us only one freedom - and that is the freedom to do what is right. Everything else we do is license and leads to bondage.

    So human beings who know enough, who feel enough, to say grace before a meal should also become human beings who live according to the original design. We can be grateful that the food we are eating is keeping us alive long enough to correct our foolish tendencies which include destroying the earth in the pursuit of pleasure and power and feeding the bodies He gave us with substances that are clearly not really food.

    Any notions of the flow of His grace are not our responsibility. What is our responsibility is to go beyond saying grace occasionally or even three times a day and ACT as if we are grateful. Deep feelings of gratitude for His creation cannot include consciously mishandling, perverting or otherwise destroying what He set in motion. Our love and gratitude are the motivation that keep us improving ourselves and lightening our impact on His world. Our love and gratitude are the motivation for changing ourselves into an adoring people who live naturally, as He would have us live. Otherwise, saying grace is nothing more than words and empty ritual.

    May we all strive to adjust ourselves to live according to His design.


  11. Sharonon 28 Nov 2008 at 7:16 am

    Hi folks - perhaps I’m punning too subtly on grace - physical, divine, aesthetic, the act. But it is also worth noting that not all theologies relate to grace the same way.


  12. Susanon 29 Nov 2008 at 7:10 am

    Doesn’t it follow that thankfulness leads to generosity?

  13. […] whole post is well worth the read. So, do you pray before meals? If so, can we be thankful for food that may […]

  14. sarahon 12 Dec 2008 at 10:28 pm

    We venerate all the great teachers, and give thanks for this food, the work of many people, and the suffering of other forms of life.

    May we, together with all beings, enjoy the pure taste of kind mind, joyful mind, big mind.

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