Let Us Bow Our Heads…and say the blessings for this food
How many times have you been seated at a table and been asked to bow your head for a blessing? Go ahead, take a guess.
My guess, based upon my religious upbringing and association with Christian family and friends, and my age, has got to be well over ten thousand times. In my youth, I never was quite sure about what we all were praying for, standing around the dinner table at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter, or just any old non special meal.
So what were we praying for? The meal was not prepared or paid for by God so, as a seven year old I ruled that out. By then I knew Santa did not make and deliver Christmas presents. But in the spirit of Christmas He was always acknowledged. I wondered why.
Another possibility was that ultimately God created all life so we should thank him at every opportunity for life, for our loved ones, for our homes, for our health and so on, including the very meals my mom fixed for the family. Besides, a short prayer before a meal was a homey, family, and loving thing to remind us all that we must not take anything for granted. Hmm , but then why not specifically thank my dad for earning an income, and my mom for shopping and preparing the meal. Where did God enter the picture? No one ever explained the logic behind saying a blessing thank you to God prior to eating. If that were not so silly, why on earth did we end by saying “In Jesus’s name, Amen”? Yes, I got the connection that Jesus and God and the Holy Ghost were all the same thing, but still if made no sense then, as it does not now.
As a Youth, I conformed without complaint or question, until my coming out, until that time when I realized there was no God. Even then, out of politeness, I never complained openly. I recognized the want or need of my table companions to bow their heads and pray if they wanted to. The thought never crossed their minds that they were forcing me to acknowledge their religious belief. How would they like it if they were asked to bow their heads and Pray to Allah or Odin? I can imagine their surprise if I interrupted the normal procedure and offered a blessing to the flying Spaghetti Monster for our meal, even though it really turkey that we were about to enjoy. Imagine the surprise on their faces; imagine their looks around the table. Would they bow their heads, would they shut their eyes, would they repeat “Amen” after I concluded the prayer?
Fast forward to December 25, 2013. I was then 76 years old and happily retired with my wife of after 40 plus years of happiness and health. Gathered around the table for the annual Christmas meal were the remnants of my family, a total of thirteen people, including three children. As the oldest member of the family and co-host of the gathering, I had decided to take the initiative and offer a blessing as we stood around the table. It was a first for me. A religious relative usually offered the blessing in the absence of her ultra religious father who once cussed me out at Christmas because he overheard my conversation with his friend, which included the word “evolution”. In front of at least twenty friends and family he let me know in a loud and condescending voice that in his home I was not to mention the word “evolution”. After his tirade there was silence. And no one came to my defense. I thought it best not to “soil” the moment further with a defense or explanation. I never did receive an apology for that nasty attack on free expression and my personal right to express myself.
In the absence of this defender of Christianity, his daughter had taken up the task of saying grace and rightfully including a mention of her most loving Christian father. I never complained, but for some reason this year was different. I had prepared a short but poignant speech, which included a loving tribute to the man who had denigrated me on Christmas day years ago. In my “blessing” I made no mention of God. I mainly paid tribute to all our loved ones no longer with us. It was short and sweet and to the point. Everyone was surprised and I received several compliments for my secular “blessing”.
I believe my experience with meal blessing need not be that rare. Many atheists find themselves in similar situations during family gatherings. Many atheists remain silent, and bow their heads, not wishing to jeopardize the significance of the day and moment. I encourage those of similar atheistic non-belief to stand firm, make a statement, recognize your right to state your beliefs publicly and proudly without reference to a divinity; without thanking a supernatural entity for the meal and for the annual gathering.
I felt proud of my stance; I felt I made a statement; I hoped I had touched a few persons gathered with me that evening who might have had hidden sympathies: I hoped that the three youngsters seated with us were not yet beyond the reach of reason and secular understanding.
I ask those who have stumbled upon this essay at graygoosegosling to make a similar statement in the form of a table “blessing” when next the opportunity arises. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel. I will strike again, at my first opportunity. Why don’t you do something similar?
Please think about it. Have a short “blessing” pre-prepared just in case the opportunity arises. If it’s your home, you have the right to pre-opt a supernatural prayer to an imaginary God, and in its place offer a secular and thoughtful, remembrance of those no longer with your family.
Just remember not to thank a supernatural entity. It is a hard habit to break.