Together with our recently-formed-but-as-yet-unnamed Sunday school class, we’re working through a series of lessons about food ethics called Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table. We’ve turned 7 sessions into, oh, a few months’ worth of lessons, and it’s been a great ongoing conversation about food as sacrament, what makes a meal holy, how health and food are interrelated, the complicated food systems that feed into hunger and poverty around the globe, sustainability and farming, and hospitality.
One of the great things about this curriculum is the “Faith in Action” steps that serve to challenge us to do something tangible related to the focus of each lesson. It might be to commit to making a particular change in your grocery shopping habits, to track down a farmer and have a conversation, to invite someone into your home you normally wouldn’t–basically, to pay attention to the way our everyday food decisions affect the world around us.
Or, in other words, to cultivate thanks.
I grew up in a household that prayed before meals, even in restaurants. With one set of parents, we had a family prayer that had been written by a great-grandparent. Let me just say that I love the idea of a passed-down prayer, of a prayer that friends get to know the more they eat with us, of a prayer that we can recite together at big holiday meals as well as normal kitchen-table meals. It also takes the pressure off being creative or trying to say something holy, original, and spontaneous.
With the other set of parents, however, we were spontaneous. There is value in this tradition, too, and it’s more common in my own house today, where we often use the finger-on-the-nose-NOT-IT! to determine who has to pray. I’m glad I grew up praying out loud. It doesn’t freak me out or make me self-conscious, and once it even gave me the guts to pray with a perfect stranger who’d just been in a car accident. (*Gulp.*)
That said, the food curriculum challenged us to take the time to write up a family prayer. I’d actually been thinking about doing so ever since I read Kate Braestrup’s book, so I put pen to paper. I wasn’t exactly sure what to write, but I knew I wanted it to focus on hands.
You see, J & I have gotten into the habit over the last few years of praying for “the hands that touched this food long before it came to our table,” or some variation thereof, and since we hold hands to pray, even with company, I wanted to pray about hands.
So a few weeks ago, as I wrote and prayed and wrote and prayed, it came together in a way I don’t think I was solely responsible for. When I look back at the prayer, I think to myself, “Who wrote this?” It was such an amazing experience, I wanted to challenge you, too, to consider taking the time to write a family prayer. What would your prayer be about? What is important to your community? How can you reflect the concerns and passions you hold most deeply in your prayer before dinner, as you cultivate thanks?
This takes more work than just jotting down some notes.
It takes time.
For the record, this prayer about hands isn’t a prayer we pray every night, especially because it’s kind of long. It does, however, get woven into the fabric of prayer in this house on a regular basis. In addition, I really think it’s made me more grateful, more thoughtful, and more gracious before I dig into a feast (or, more likely, the leftovers) set before me on the table.
It’s been a way for me to cultivate thanks, in a simple way.
And, as you’ll see tomorrow when I post the prayer, it’s also been a way to cultivate community around our table.