When my brother in law was a child, he was running across the dining room and smacked his giant blond noggin squarely on the dining room table. His parents while they comforted their toddler said “why don’t you pray that God would help your head feel better?” So Joe prayed the only prayer he knew as he placed his little hands on his head; “God bless this food!” to the great amusement of his parents.
This is a “twofer” blog- one about both food and prayer. Partly because I’m in the middle of meetings and don’t have time to write two separate posts, but also because as I always write about how our bodies and spiritual lives are interconnected and mealtime prayer is something many people have once practiced or do practice. I also need to write about being present for the birth of my friend Gracee’s son!
I can remember times in my life where meal time prayer became as rote as reciting the ABC’s- a ritual rather than a meaningful time of reflection. I think prayer can become like this for anyone if the focus is on just getting through it rather than connecting with God. The problem isn’t praying, it’s how our heart is poised towards God as we pray. I don’t want to give the impression that I have a transcendent experience every time I sit down with a steaming bowl of black bean soup, but as I’ve tried to be mindful of what I’m eating, it’s created more space in my life to be thankful for the food God has provided for me.
Pre-industrial age, and even now, our workday is built with natural pauses to eat which for Christians and people from other faith backgrounds have a fixed time to pause and thank God for his provision in life, to ask God to strengthen their bodies with the food he’s given and to ask for health and protection. Maybe now with swine flu going around people will be praying more before they eat :)? In recent years as I’ve prayed, “God bless this food to my body, and us to your service” I’ve really given a second thought to whether the food I’m eating is actually blessing my body. It’s been fairly convicting to sit before a Whopper that is full of stuff that isn’t very nutritious or healthy and ask God to bless it to my body.
I once heard someone say asking God to bless food that you know isn’t a healthy choice is like asking him to do a miracle or even absolve you of the guilt of making choices that don’t care for your body. I’m not saying I never eat junk food- this past weekend has been a burger and fries fest for me. Its caused me to stop and ask myself- “what’s going on in my life that I want to eat what’s quick and easy rather than sit down and eat a meal that’s a healthier choice?”
Food and eating is such a tangled complex issue for people that I also think praying before you eat can be a way to invite God into your “eating issues” whether you struggle with gluttony or anorexia or anything in between. Praying with thanksgiving helps us to see food as a blessing rather than an area of guilt, punishment or indulgence. We can pray for a spirit of celebration when we enjoy a delicious meal for someone’s birthday rather than beating ourselves up for enjoying a piece of chocolate cake. We can pray as I have been during my travels that God would give me strength to practice self discipline and not emotionally over eat because I’m tired or stressed. We can pray that God would strengthen our bodies as we slurp a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup, enjoying the steam wafting up to a stuffy nose.
My inlaws actually sing their mealtime prayers which was really uncomfortable for me when I first joined their family. Prayer might be really uncomfortable for you & that’s ok! However, like singing mealtime prayers was strange for me, I’ve gradually enjoyed it though because it does seem to foster more of a spirit of celebration around food when we sing mealtime graces such as:
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything. Amen.
Did you pray at mealtimes as a child? Do you still pray at mealtimes? Do you just pray what is on your heart or use some sort of a memorized prayer? My prayer and eating challenge to you today is to stop and pray before your meals this week. Whether you believe in God or not, take a minute to reflect on what you’re eating & be thankful for the food that God has provided for you. You may even want to use the prayer I posted above!