Here’s a prayer you probably know: Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive… And so on. You know the rest.
My family rarely prays it before meals. My daughters do not know it. And I often wonder if I’m setting them up for failure.
After all, it’s at many the Catholic gathering that this prayer is recited. What will my girls do if – in 20 years – they find themselves at some faith-based breakfast and someone stands up, bows their head and says, “Please join me in praying, ‘Bless us, oh Lord…’”?
Will my girls be forced to mumble along, silently cursing their father?
Here’s what does happen at our table before meals. My wife or I ask, “Who wants to say prayers?” And our girls argue over whose hand shoots into the air first.
Now, don’t get any ideas that we’re particularly pious parents. I’ve just admitted to continual failure to teach my kids a simple mealtime blessing.
But here’s what happens next: The youngest inevitably gets her hand – and eyebrows – in the air first. “Go ahead,” we say. She sits stock still, eyes wide, grin playing at her lips and says, “Dear God. Amen.”
Laughter, and she’s back to eating.
The other one clasps her hands together and – if she opts against singing – begins to rattle off any number of non-meal related items for which she is thankful. Sometimes, God doesn’t even make the cut; we have to gently remind her to whom she’s praying and why.
All that to say, there’s not much of a script for our grace before meals. If there’s any ritual at all, it’s the silly chaos that the simple question, “Who wants to say prayers?” consistently ignites.
But I think that’s okay. Certainly, that’s where God is to be found; that’s what an invocation of prayer invites: the present, mundane moment, in all its glory.
I think of St. Ignatius’ reminder to let God deal directly with God’s beloved creations. He makes the point at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, a note to directors to remember that it’s ultimately God’s work being done and that God is more than capable of speaking directly to God’s people.
Of course, the director has a roll to play, too, gently nudging, encouraging the retreatant along, helping the individual notice God at work in the silly and the chaotic. The Exercises provide that roadmap. It’s not a strict set of rules but rather a touchstone, a series of opportunities in which retreatants past, present and future have encountered God.
So, too, at our dinner table. We will – we do – pray that classic mealtime prayer, if only on occasion. It’s that touchstone, that tried-and-true place in which God is found.
And yet – what is tried-and-true isn’t the only way to God. So, we’ll continue letting our girls arm wrestle over their own prayers, short and comical as they may be.
Because the joy, the excitement on their faces – there, too, is God delighting.
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Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.