November 30, 2012
By Bill McKenzie
We are only two days away from Thanksgiving, when many of us will join others for a wonderful meal around a table. Presumably, many will say thanks and offer a prayer.
The writer Anne Lamott offered her observations about saying grace in this Parade article. The piece is based upon her new book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.
Here’s one quote from her Parade essay that struck me as realistic and pertinent:
“We’ve all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room, like the Church Lady. But more often, people simply say thank you — we understand how far short we must fall, how selfish we can be, how-self-righteous, what brats. And yet God has given us this marvelous meal.”
She has her take on saying thanks, which I rather like. But why do we say grace over a meal, including a traditional one like the Thanksgiving dinner?...
MATTHEW WILSON, Associate Professor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University
We say grace over meals — or at least over the occasional big, elaborate family feast — because it reminds us of the extraordinary blessings with which we have been showered. In America today, the overwhelming majority of us enjoy “Freedom from Want,” to use the title of Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting.
We take for granted the ability to put on a lavish holiday banquet, and often to travel extended distances to enjoy it with family and friends. For most of us, the primary concern at Thanksgiving (as on other days) is that we will eat too much, partake too liberally of God’s bounty, not that we will lack for anything. We are, after all, the first civilization in the history of the world in which the “poor” are plagued by obesity. It is good, in the midst of this amazing abundance that we enjoy every day, to stop and give thanks to the ultimate provider of our feast.
Of course, beyond the food itself (which is no small thing), we do well to remind ourselves of the other blessings in our lives. Our culture often fixates on the negative, and we are bombarded in the media with messages about what might be wrong with us (Thinning hair? Crappy job? Expanding waistline? Insufficient retirement savings? Underachieving children? The list goes on and on.)
In a world where it seems that everyone is trying to sell us something, there is very little focus on gratitude and contentment. Thanksgiving, and the prayer that accompanies it, is one small opportunity to pause and reflect on all of the good things that bring joy to our lives — especially, if we are people of faith, our connection to the source of all joy and all life. This, more than anything else, is reason to raise our voices in prayers of gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day....
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The practice of giving thanks over a meal before taking a first bite only has real significance for those who are truly hungry. For the wealthy and well-fed, it may seem like an exercise with little meaning.
But there is something of deep existential value for persons who have food in front of them and have no idea when or whether there will be a next meal. Such moments clarify our immense human dependency on the creatures of the earth and sea whose flesh nourishes our bodies, on the cycles of seedtime and harvest that yield vegetables, grains, and fruits for our sustenance. To give thanks, whether before a table-filled feast or cradling a small bowl of soup, is to acknowledge that our bodies rely on gifts from creation. We receive them and we consume them. And as a result we survive.
It is also helpful to give thanks for those persons, mostly unseen by us, who plow the fields and scatter the seed and gather the harvest. Many of them are undocumented or marginally documented workers, without whom we could not be capable of feasting. When we pause to give thanks before beginning to eat a meal with loved ones on Thursday, we are obliged to remember the people who work the fields, who process the food in factories, and who deliver it to our stores, doors, and tables.
Giving thanks is a fundamental act of acknowledging our dependency. We depend on God the Creator. We depend on the creatures that become our meat and the fruits of creation that become what restaurants like to call our side dishes. We depend on those who process and prepare the food. We may or may not have a next meal.
But the one immediately before us has been given. The decent, respectful thing is to give thanks....