It’s an interesting term. What about . . .
Saying mercy. Saying hope. Saying love.
We don’t “say” those things. But we “say grace.” And we know exactly what we mean.
Wikipedia says that “the term comes from the Ecclesiastical Latin phrase gratiarum actio, ‘act of thanks.’” The article goes on to mention various biblical passages in which, no surprise, Jesus and the Apostle Paul pray before meals. For over two thousand years, “saying grace” before meals has been a sweet tradition for most Christians. I’ve not done much further research, but it seems that in Judaism, a benediction is most often said after the meal.
Various Christian traditions have used specific table graces. Most of us have taught our kids simple table graces. I remember an older and well-loved mentor, Dr. John Victor Halvorson, always leading us in the well-known, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest; let these gifts to us be blessed.” From what I’ve read, this sweet table grace is particularly prominent among North American Lutherans, though it has certainly spread much farther. Dr. Halvorson was Lutheran, for sure, but he was also Norwegian, and I’d wondered if his tradition might have had Norwegian roots. Anyway, I brought that table grace home with me, and my little family used it often.
And, of course, many of us pray more “spontaneous” table graces quite often. I wonder how many times my father said grace at our table as I was growing up in Amarillo. On the wall above the table hung a beautiful print of Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ.” Beneath it, my dad and our family prayed.
However we thank God for his gifts and ask for his blessing, gratitude is the point.
May I pause here to chuckle a bit?
One of my blessings is having the best “birth order” imaginable. I was the fourth of five kids, but Mom and Dad had two families. Three kids first, and then fifteen years passed before my birth. Two years later, here came my third brother, the caboose, Child #5. My older siblings have always asserted that our parents were just tired after Jim and I came along, and we’ve always gotten away with a lot. Be that as it may (okay, they’re correct), I was the fourth kid but the firstborn of the second family. Fourth child license but also with some firstborn privilege. It doesn’t get better than that. Jim and I were along for the ride just for fun, and we’ve always considered that to be our job description.
For years, my brothers and I have been incredibly blessed to spend a bunch of good time with the older bros. (My sis passed away some years ago.) Twice a year, at least, for decades, we’ve gotten together at our maternal grandparents’ old place at Robert Lee, Texas. At a restaurant there, we discovered years ago a bit of a problem.
You see, our oldest brother, with (I suspect) the conscience that is his birthright as the true firstborn, is very committed to saying grace before meals, even at restaurants. My next oldest brother is equally convinced that Jesus meant it when he cautioned us about doing our “acts of piety” before men. For a year or two, I thought we might starve as we waited to plot a prayer course before the meal. Jim and I could go either way. But we were hungry.
Decades ago now, the older boys reached a compromise. Yes, we’d pray, but nothing long. And I must say, I agree that gratitude deserves a real place at any table, but a filibuster does not. Come to think of it, Dr. Halvorson’s prayer is a nice compromise. Saying grace is a good thing. It is a simple but rich reminder of the Source of all blessing. But let’s not stop there.
I like G. K. Chesterton’s approach: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and the pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in ink.”
Point well made. And well taken.
Grace to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!
You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!
Copyright 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.