Thursday, August 13, 2009

Would You Please Ask the Blessing?

The practice of “saying the blessing” before meals is one that has been around in Christian circles for time immemorial. The first blessing I learned as a child was the ever familiar: “God is great; God is good; let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we are fed. Thank you, God, for daily bread.” The words were rote memory, and up until just recently sounded a bit childish to my “grown-up” ears. They are simple words, but the truths they express are anything but simplistic. And that prayer may actually be closer to the ancient practices if the faith than the blessings we consider more mature.

I remember each of my grandfathers pronouncing the blessing at family gatherings. Granddaddy’s blessing always went like this: “Gracious Lord, pardon our sins and make us thankful for these and all Thy many blessings, for Christ’s sake. Amen.” It was short and to the point, but it sometimes worried me that God might actually answer the “make us thankful” part by allowing us to do without for long enough to gain a new appreciation for what we previously took for granted. Daddy Jim’s blessing was often hard for us to hear (he wasn’t talking to us, after all). Perhaps one of my sisters can remember his usual form, but I can’t right now. Dad’s blessing form varied over the years, but was most often some variation on, “Father, for this food and for all Thy many blessings, we give you thanks. Amen.” He often also used the equally familiar, “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us to Thy service,” in his blessing.

My friend Charles Roberts (a big Obama fan, but I claim him as friend anyway) posted a blog in early July that unpacked this practice and led me to think a little differently about what we do when we pray before a meal. Our Christian practice has its roots in the Jewish blessing before meals … but the interesting thing when you look at the Jewish form is that our Jewish forebears did not ask God’s blessing on the food, but rather saw the abundance of food as cause to bless God … or to proclaim God’s blessedness to each other may be more accurate. And they may have pronounced multiple blessings during the course of the meal.

There is another way of looking at what we do before meals that has its root in the Greek New Testament account of Christ in the upper room. What they did in the upper room was very Jewish, but it comes to our Western minds through Greece and Rome. The Greek translation of the Hebrew word baruch (blessing) is the root of our English word eulogy, which means to speak well of. The other important Greek word in that passage is eucharist, which means to give thanks (and which is why our Episcopal and Anglican brothers and sisters call it that). I remember being asked at a family gathering to “return thanks,” which meant to “ask the blessing.” That is not far from the ancient practice. Charles’s blog ends with the suggestion that maybe we should not “ask the blessing” but rather use the opportunity to bless God ... or to proclaim the blessedness of God to each other.

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


Blogger Charles Smallwood said...

I found your blog because I and my sisters and cousins have been trying to trace the origins of our family's table prayer: "Lord make us thankful for these and all thy many blessings, we ask of thee for Christ's sake, Amen" Your granddaddy's prayer is one of a very few similar prayers I have found in the internet universe. May I ask where your Grandaddy was from? Enjoying your blog...thanks, Charlie (

8:04 PM  

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