We say grace…

"Saying Grace" Norman Rockwell

We say grace.

"Saying Grace" Norman Rockwell
“Saying Grace”
Norman Rockwell

Here in the Bible belt, rarely a meal starts without someone saying grace — a prayer of devotion and gratitude — before the family dives in. We give thanks for the nourishment of our bodies and souls. We give thanks for the blessing of another day. We give thanks for family and friends.

Grace can take many forms. As a child we recited the sing-songy

God is great.
God it good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands we all are fed.
Thank you Lord for daily bread.

As smart aleck teenagers we raced through with

Good bread. Good meat.
Good God, let’s eat.

My Episcopalian family tended to stick with the semi-staid

Bless this food to our use and us to thy service
And make us ever mindful of the needs of others.

Which I always thought was especially nice since it included a sentiment of personal growth and good works.

Depending on who was chosen to say grace, we might also use the equally formal

Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive from Thy bounty.
Through Christ, our Lord.

Or Daddy’s favorite

Come Lord Jesus our guest to be
And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.

Other religions seemed to always ad lib — what a friend of mine called the “Jesus weejus” prayer.

Jesus we just gather here today…
Jesus we just want to thank you for…
Jesus we just want to ask you…

You get the idea.

However it plays out, the act of saying grace traditionally and faithfully, no matter your religion, brings great focus to a family meal and connects everyone in a quiet moment of contemplation before the chaos of life continues around the table. There is great humility in the recognition of a higher power and the realization that the world is greater than what’s outside our front door. And in a society so focused on getting and having, the very act of giving thanks reminds us that we should appreciate how fortunate we are and help those who are less so.

I knew people growing up who never said grace. It seemed very odd to me to sit down at the table and just start serving your plate. Rude, even.  I also remember dinners on the church grounds, homecomings, and family reunions where the prayers would carry on so long I thought I might die of starvation before the blessing ever ended. In either case, whether it’s so short you barely get your eyes closed or so long you wind up peeking to see who’s sneaking a biscuit, grace always ends with a rousing “Amen!” Unless you are Uncle Red.

Whenever the designated sayer of grace would finish in the traditional manner, Uncle Red would wink at me and continue on with

Amen! Brother Ben
Shot a rooster. Killed a hen.
Hen died.
Ben cried.
And all went home satisfied.

 And only then it was time to eat. Amen to that!