When I was growing up, we sat down to dinner every night as a family, even on those nights my father was late coming home from the office. And before the first fork was lifted, we said grace.
This sounds all peaceful and idyllic. In fact, as we knew four or five different blessings, there was always a skirmish beforehand as each one of us kids tried to be top dog and lead with our favorite. Or perhaps it wasn’t exactly our favorite, but the one that really irritated the sibling we wanted to annoy the most.
My long-suffering mother was not one to put up with this kind (or any other kind) of nonsense and as soon as it became apparent that we were prepared to fight every night, she assigned each of us a day of the week when we could choose the grace. There were three of us and so we went through the weekly rota twice, leaving Sundays for my father’s choice. This meant that on Sundays, as we sat down, we three kids would immediately start lobbying for him to say one or the other of the graces. It wasn’t that we wanted our favorite one; it was more that if he chose our suggestion, it meant he loved us best…
I say we had four or five blessings in the rotation because I can definitely remember four of them; however, I have a nagging feeling I am missing one.
There was the traditional Catholic blessing:
Bless us O Lord and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen
Then there was grace we three learned in kindergarten. Kindergarten was private in those days, so the teachers, even in a non-religious school, were allowed to mention the unmentionable – God.
Thank you for the world so sweet; thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing; thank you God for everything. Amen.
My father would occasionally mess this up by saying: thank you for the birds that tweet – and then we’d have to begin all over again…
And there was the classic
God is good; God is great – let us thank him for our food. Amen.
(Or does that begin God is great, God is good?) I’m not sure where we learned that one. It might have been on Romper Room. Or it might have been that in those days, everyone was just born knowing it.
The last one, the one that was mandatory at all our holiday celebrations was the one my father taught us. He learned it from his mother, who learned it from her mother, I believe, although it could have been from her father. I suspect it was her mother, though, because my great-grandmother was from Germany, and the first phrase translated into German sounds so typical of German prayers.
Dear Heavenly Father: We thank thee for your bountiful blessings and the blessings of the past. Bless each one here and those who could not be with us today. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen
All of this came back to me last weekend as The Hunter and I attended probably the nicest wedding ever. From the rehearsal dinner through the day-after brunch, the whole weekend was marked with generosity and graciousness. The bride and groom clearly knew what they were promising. It was simply lovely.
The deacon who officiated could not stay for the reception and he had asked me a few weeks ago to offer the grace. My initial reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding. Surely there are more and better people to do this.” He said he would check with the bride; she thought I should do it. The deacon said he would write something out. And I, in spite of a healthy hatred of microphones, agreed.
But then I got to thinking about it. Even though I am sure the deacon is reliable, I could think of a million ways to keep that pre-written grace out of my hands; I decided I better have something prepared – just in case.
But what to say? So often I have been at functions when the person offering the blessing goes on and on – and frankly, beyond saying ‘thank you’ no one really cares all that much, and in fact, most people really just want to get back to their conversations and dig into the meal. I knew not to be long-winded.
I also didn’t want to be silly or stupid or trendy or whatever. Again, I have heard time and again all kinds of lists inserted into a before meal grace. It’s so I almost expect it. It doesn’t mean that I think it is appropriate.
And then I remembered “Dear heavenly Father” and thought that with a few additions, it would cover the situation nicely.
I wrote it out, naming the bride and groom, the gathering of family and friends, and the lovely meal, directly after “bountiful blessings”, and put it in my evening bag so in the case of a memory lapse, break, fart or other unlooked-for disaster, I could read it.
The deacon did remember to give me his script before leaving. After reading it over, I noticed that we said basically the same things. But his was a bit longer and sounded like him, while my shorter version sounded a bit more classical – just like the bride. So we prayed “Dear heavenly Father…”
It was like old times, only better: strictly speaking not my turn or choice, but I slipped my favorite one in there anyway.