By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
I was intrigued by a CBC interview with the writer and on-screen presenter, of “Tasting History”, (which you will find on YouTube).
During the conversation, Max Miller spoke of how saying Grace at mealtime was historically regarded as a sacred act. He commented on the fact that the offering of a Grace, the act of thanking God for the food on the table, was a sincere appreciation for the co-ordination of Divine blessing and human labour that brought the food to the table.
He shared the fact that those who sat at the table, were aware of the reality that the vegetables had to be grown and harvested. It was clearly through the Divine blessing of good weather that enough food was on the table. Seasonal fare meant that there were points during the calendar year when some foods were simply not available, so they could only be enjoyed during a limited period of time.
It was only through individuals spending time hunting, or fishing, or raising livestock that any meat appeared at mealtime. The investment of time and potentially dealing with moments of danger, meant that the meat also represented a combination of human and Divine activity. As a recognition of that relationship, a Grace at mealtime was a logical expression of offering thanks to God for the bounty that was to be consumed.
Living in the Waterloo Region, I am mindful of the seasonal nature and timing of different harvests. A local asparagus farm provides its produce in the Spring. A popular local farm produce venue is known for offering delicious corn during the summer and early Fall. As the Winter snows melt, Spring heralds the arrival of our local maple syrup and the festivals surrounding that harvest ensure that plenty of pancakes, drenched in the syrup are enjoyed.
During one session of Synod, years ago, the First Nations communities of the Diocese of Huron provided a teaching moment. The meeting was taking place during strawberry season. As strawberries were passed around and shared with everyone present, we were all encouraged to value and appreciate our dependency on the bounty of God’s Creation. The experience was a gentle reminder that we have a relationship of stewardship with God’s Creation.
“Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s Creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?”
Food security is a challenge in many parts of our global village. The significant contrast between individuals and families becoming dependent on donated food supplies is not simply a media image which arrives in our homes from another part of the world. Local Food Banks constantly share the news that they are facing an ongoing challenge meeting the needs of Canadians who have become dependent on the generosity of their fellow Canadians to put food on their own table.
Debates regarding the use of land include questions about whether or not to continue to use farmland to generate food, or to transform the land into a place where homes may be built.
Pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of your favourite grocery store allows you to see the way in which the global village has arrived on your doorstep. Look at the labels which mark the journey made by the food you have the opportunity to select. Apples from South Africa, asparagus from Peru, lamb from New Zealand, cod from Iceland and tomatoes from Leamington are not limited by any seasonal framework, but are available all year long. We take for granted their availability as we ponder what our next meal may look like.
Offering a Grace at mealtime is expressed in a wide variety of different ways. Whenever my family used to gather for Thanksgiving, the clan would join hands and sing:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly Host.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
There have been moments in my years of ministry when I have been invited to offer a Grace before a dinner in a public gathering.
On one occasion, at a regimental dinner, I had been asked, as a member of the community to offer a prayer prior to the meal. I prepared a Grace which I thought reflected the significant history of the regiment, its link with the community and the special nature of the anniversary gathering.
When I arrived at the event, the Commanding Officer welcomed me and indicated that, while I was still invited to share the meal, a retired Chaplain had arrived, and so it was deemed more appropriate for him to offer the Grace. I looked forward to an enjoyable evening and to learning the protocol involved in that setting. When the moment arrived, the Chaplain stood up and simply said:
“For what we are about to receive…Thank God.”
When warfare, wildfires, floods, drought, homelessness, pandemics and other challenges whirl around us in our world and in our lives, the simple act of sitting at a table, by ourselves or in the company of others, with a plate of food in front of us, mindful of what has brought us to that moment, it is a good thing to pause and offer the words of a simple, traditional prayer:
“For what we are about to receive. May the Lord make us truly thankful.”
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full-time parish ministry but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.