Saying Grace

Praying Hands

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

My eight-year-old niece has been reciting the same prayer before family meals for several years now. It comes out in a jumbled rush: Godthankyouforthisfoodwe’reabouttoeatamen. I often find I barely have time to bow my head before the prayer is over. My amen is usually offered as a question; we’re done already? They are now teaching her a longer prayer.
That’s not to knock my adorable niece. Our typical at-home practice is to bow our heads as we hold hands and individually offer a silent petition. We squeeze each other’s hands to indicate we’re done. My own prayer is rather rote as well, and sometimes I think about the words moving through my head, and sometimes their familiarity is more habitual than heartfelt, especially the part about me being a blessing to others. (I frequently grumble my way through that.)
Ritual, of course, doesn’t mean rote. But like anything done on a regular basis, the danger of not really engaging in an act meant to be done with care is ever-present. Like driving home and wondering how you’re already in your driveway. Even our spiritual life can be done on autopilot.
Simply because something is common doesn’t mean it isn’t sacred. Just as before we take Communion the pastor offers the Words of Institution, grace before we break bread at our own tables is another sacredness. If we come to the Lord’s Table as equals in a moment of sharing meant to transcend the actions themselves – eat this bread, drink this cup and be my body, choose my will – can’t we do the same at other tables with family, friends, even ourselves? Can’t we let grace be words of instituting equality, fellowship, intimacy, and sympathy whenever we break bread?
I am reminded that grace is more than a name for a prayer before a meal. As a verb, it is synonymous with glorify and honor and crown. And, certainly, it would be remiss not to mention God’s grace, God’s great and wonderful mercy, which brings us back to prayer and offering blessings…
Perhaps it’s time for me to change my personal prayer at mealtime so I’m not just saying grace, but I am getting at the heart of it: gratiarum actio, “act of thanks”, which is the Latin origin. That way I might be more like Jesus who, after a long walk and conversation on the way to Emmaus, was only recognized when he blessed the meal and broke the bread. There must’ve been something significant about the grace of Jesus. May our eyes be opened as well.