By Jeff Carter
The words spoken before meals – “grace” in the Christian tradition – is a universal concept, cutting across all cultures and religions, a tradition that unites rather than divides.
The Muslim tradition calls for a silent prayer both before and after meals, Bismillah – In the name of Allah. For those of the Jewish tradition, the Birkat hamazon is a form of grace said after meals. From the Hindu tradition, the Bhojan Mantra expresses gratitude to God for sustenance and the desire to share the same with others.
It is with some sadness, when attending meals where large numbers of people have gathered, that grace is often omitted – even when those who have gathered are members of the farming community. Food, it seems, is no longer sacred, and little thought is given to those bringing it to the table.
I would hope to see the tradition revived and if the inclusion of a specific religious tradition is an issue, perhaps the Zen meal chant – Gokan-no-ge – could be used:
First, let us reflect on our own work and the effort of those who brought us this food.
Second, let us be aware of the quality of our deeds as we receive this meal.
Third, what is most essential is the practice of mindfulness, which helps us transcend greed, anger and delusion.
Fourth, we appreciate this food which sustains the good health of our body and mind.
Fifth, in order to continue our practice for all beings we accept this offering.
The first reflection speaks to the contribution of those present and of those responsible for making the meal possible, essentially, all those along what is often referred to as the food supply chain.
The second is inward-looking, a consideration of how as individuals we have contributed, or failed to contribute, to the people and world around us.
The third builds upon the second reflection, and speaks to the poisons that complicate our lives, that cultivate evil rather than foster harmony.
The fourth speaks to the value of food beyond its sensory pleasure, its importance to both physical and mental wellbeing.
The fifth, I feel, touches upon the sacred with its reference to offering, an inference, perhaps, to a broader reality beyond the confines of the five human senses.
That all said, being of a Unitarian or Universalist or even of a Quaker-like mindset, I embrace any type of thanksgiving before meals including those with a Christian bent, especially the Johnny Appleseed Grace song, although I like to substitute the word moon for rain.
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me, the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed; Oh, the Lord’s been good to me. Johnny Appleseed! Amen!
I have broken bread, so to speak, with a particular farming couple many times. Some form of Grace is always said and on at least one occasion it was the Johnny Appleseed Song. (It was only as I began writing this column that I learned there is a second verse.) There always seemed to be cheese served with those meals, Kraft cheese to be specific, a choice I have given much consideration, given that this particular couple are often viewed as food activists.
My initial thought was to bring another brand of cheddar along for my next visit. My second was that the offering of Kraft cheese is a kind of statement, a suggestion that all forms of nourishment should indeed be received with a sense of humility and non-judgment.
I always think of my old mom when it comes to the saying of grace. She insisted upon the tradition at family gatherings and I always remember her words when she used to serve a breakfast of hot oatmeal, accompanied with milk and brown sugar many years ago: “Eat it up. It will stick to your bellies.” ◊