Press play, that’s the way, to hear what I say… okay?
United Church of Jaffrey
One night, when I was about 10 years old, I was invited to eat dinner at my friend Peter’s house.
As we sat down at the table, Peter’s mother turned to him and said:
“Peter, would you please say grace?”
“Sure,” Peter said… and tossing me with a mischievous smirk, he said:
I blurted out laughing.
It may have been a well worn gag, but it was new to me. What’s more, I liked the way Peter did something silly and a little rebellious but, at the same time, was simply doing exactly what his mother had asked him to do.
Needless to say, Peter’s mother did not share why appreciation of his little stunt. She gave him a stern look, and quietly acquiescing, he recited a prayer—sweet short, and well-rehearsed.
The next day, when I returned to my own family’s table, my father said grace. He did so every night of my youth.
And it was always the same.
I remember it well. It went like this:
Thank you God for this food, for Jesus sake Amen.
My father was well known for being a creative teacher and a excellent speaker. Even as a child, it was a treat to hear him give a speech — he was animated, and used images that you could relate to…
And then, when he came down from the pulpit or the podium, he was capable of being quite charming — if you were fortunate enough to be the recipient of his enormous smile, you could feel the warmth of its radiance warming up your heart.
But no matter how I spin it, I have to admit, Dad’s dinner prayer was nothing special.
To be sure, it contained the important parts — giving thanks for nourishment…
…references to God and to Jesus.
As a Christian prayer, you would not say it was wrong. It just wasn’t particularly inspired.
I suspect that, like most of us, my father was just eager to eat and saying grace was simply a formality that stood between the food and his poised chopsticks.
Indeed, if this “get it over with” sentiment was behind my father’s quick grace, could you blame him? He — like everyone else in the world — was hungry. The “lickety-split” grace is a world-wide phenomenon. Take, for example the old Lumberjack special:
Rub-adub-dub, thanks for the grub!
Or the similarly styled:
Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat.
Another example is the somewhat irreverent but painfully truthful Jewish prayer that Rabbi’s, historians, and Klezmer bands have embraced on the internet recently, that goes:
They tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat.
But what these prayers have, that my father’s lacked, is humor. Dad’s prayer did not even try make up for its brevity with wit.
For me, the virtue of my father’s prayer, was not its eloquence or brevity.
The virtue was its consistency.
Even as I say it now, almost ten years after his death, it brings me back, like a little time machine, to his presence.
He may have been impatient or preoccupied when he said it.
But he said it.
And he was always there to say it.
I’m sure that I did not appreciate that fact at the time.
But I appreciate it now.
In two key ways, the Thanksgiving meal is a little different from a daily meal.
For one thing, its not a meal — its a feast.
On thanksgiving, we do what people all over the world have been doing for countless generations stretching way back beyond any story of pilgrims or turkeys.
Autumn is harvest time.
And so it is now, as the leaves fall, as the air quickens, and as first frosts hint at the oncoming winter, that we gather in a veritable cornucopia of food and set to, keenly aware of the blessings of this fine earth, that are our greatest inheritance. on the with We share in the astonishing abundance of the earth.
The other thing that sets thanksgiving apart, is the presence of family.
Not just mom and dad and brothers and sisters…
but… the whole crew of nieces and nephews and cousins and various iterations of fathers and mothers and brothers and sister’s in law and their partners, not to mention respective step father and step mothers in law and 2nd cousins once removed and step sister in laws and the husbands of step sisters in law, and domestic short haired cats, and gigantic long-haired step-cats and ornery step-cats-in-law-once removed…
And should you be asked to say grace at such a feast, when all these folks are gathered around, waiting impatiently…
I suggest you raise your hands, incline your head…
And when everyone is sufficiently warmed up say…
It is with the grace of humility that we tuck into this feast, knowing, above all, that we are fortunate to receive this abundance from the earth, and from the work of human hands.
It is with the grace of a generous spirit, that we sit beside each other, setting aside entrenched sibling grudges or the petty political leanings of the day, to connect, once again, with the love that brought us all to this table.
It is with the grace of thankfulness that we gather. Thankfulness for the food that sustains us, and for the love that gives us meaning.
Or, in other words:
Thank you God for this Food, For Jesus sake…