One hardly hears anyone saying Grace before eating their dinner these days. I catch myself wondering just how many folks still say "Thank you, Lord" before each meal -- whatever they consider God to be.
The concept of saying Grace at mealtimes goes back a very long way. In the ancient spiritual classic, the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, "The Devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin" (3:13). This statement, which at the outset may seem rather alarming in view of our restaurant culture, intimates the importance of remembering where our food came from before we tuck into a hearty meal. Other living beings have had to sacrifice their lives so that we can continue ours.
In the Christian scriptures we learn that St. Paul himself "gave thanks in the presence of them all" for the food they had before them (Acts 27:35). In the Catholic Encyclopedia we read that
This custom is frequently emphasized as an important family ritual to carry over the spirit of the day's liturgical prayer, especially at morning and evening, as well as to acknowledge God in prayer of blessing for His providence in offering sustenance for His creatures. This derives largely from the important Jewish ritual custom of offering special prayers at mealtimes, especially the weekly Sabbath meal and the annual Seder.
It is interesting that the word Grace is a relic of the old phrase "to do graces" or render thanks, from the French rendre graces and the Latin gratias agere, and therefore we can infer that it is not necessarily a shallow religious observance. For myself, I strongly believe that saying Grace is another opportunity we have for reflecting on life's questions and for reinforcing our connection to All Life in the small and routine activities of daily life. Saying Grace can assist in leading us to better dietary habits by making us more thoughtful about what we eat and seeing how our sustenance is linked with All Life. In particular, it should lead us to be less destructive of other life forms in what we routinely consume and realize the sacrifice of other lives to sustain us. We also have occasion to remember and empathize with those who are not as fortunate as ourselves to have a wholesome meal to eat and resolve to help them when we can.
Saying Grace is another little way in which we can connect regularly with spiritual realities and realize that we are all One in Spirit, and therefore be more sensitive to our opportunities each day to help other sentient beings. The old saying "food for thought" takes on a whole new meaning when we look at our daily meal this way!
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)
World Spiritual Traditions Menu
I work in a small foothill community. Every day at noon an air horn blasts from city hall to test the call to a volunteer fire department. Generally, noon is the checkout time of hospitals around the world. Hearing that horn each day, I can easily picture a chain of handshakes, hugs, and ping-pong smiles volleying back and forth between patients and their doctors and nurses. I can hear appreciative thank-yous and well-wishes of every sort.
We've all seen a concerted human wave move around a sports stadium. Imagine the same Doppler-type wave, but of human appreciation, sweeping around the world every day with mathemagical precision, marked by the midday sun crossing each hospital's front door on the spinning sacred sphere of Mother Earth. -- Wynn Wolfe