Allow me to preface this post by stating that I am not trying to start a discussion of religion, or to endorse or oppose anyone's religious beliefs or lack thereof. CHers beliefs are none of my business, and I don't think it's appropriate to discuss them here.
That said, I grew up in a fairly religious family, but we never said grace. I married a man whose family always said grace, and I adopted the practice with him. I've drifted away from religious practices, but I don't want to stop saying grace. Grace is a dignified way to start a meal, better than everyone just digging in. I also believe that appreciating what one has is more conducive to happiness than taking it for granted or always grasping for more.
So, my question is: has anyone adopted a secular form of grace, or does anyone have suggestions on creating one? Certainly, it should include an expression of thanks to the persons who farmed or gardened,bought, prepared, and served the food. Other elements could include a general expression of thanks for the availability of food and a commitment to helping the less fortunate. Any other ideas?
Let me preface my response by saying that I am a Christian and a secular grace is outside my area of expertise, but I've seen this done. My husband is an atheist, and while the rest of us are praying silently or out loud giving thanks, he just sits there with his hands slightly raised, palms up. This is his silent way of accepting the gift of delicious (or, in the case of tonight's dinner, not so delicious) food in gratitude to the farmers and the cook (me.).
Whether you are a believer or not, simply sitting in silence before a meal is a nice way to show your appreciation of it, the people who made it, and the people who grew or raised the food you are about to consume. I wish more people thought of this the way you have.
I hope this helps. Its the buddhist meal chant we use at zen retreats and whenever we are asked to do as you are asked and i also use it at home. its always good to remember the long path, the sacrifices and the many hands that brought this meal before us.
A Buddhist blessing for food
"This food is the gift of the whole universe,
Each morsel is a sacrifice of life,
May I be worthy to receive it.
May the energy in this food,
Give me the strength,
To transform my unwholesome qualities
into wholesome ones.
I am grateful for this food,
May I realise the Path of Awakening,
For the sake of all beings."
This is what I (a secularist) used with my Girl Scout troop for many years. It's the Shaker blessing.
'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free,
'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place that's right,
We will be in the garden of love and delight.
Correction, it is a Shaker dance song. When it talks about "turn, turn, will be our delight" or "to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed", those are dance instructions.
Dancing was a type of worship for the Shakers, but they distinguished between the songs they used for dancing and hymns.
My brother has a good friend who did not get married until he was 48. This bachelor ate a lot of holiday meals at their house. After my brother's family were done saying grace, he would add his own prayer. It went like this:
"Thank you God for beer,
thank you God for deer,
thank you God for beer and deer."
(I realize it mentions God, but it otherwise sounds quite secular to me.)
Thanks to the people around you.Bringing us together. Usually includes a safe journey. And the food. Grace,at my sisters family table.
I often ate dinner as a kid at my not at all religious best friend's home.
Instead of a formal grace after offering thanks for the meal and their family/health they would say something specific to that day that they were thankful for and/or that they had done as a good deed towards other.
I feel like that aspect kept the "grace" relevant to daily life.
As long as this thread is including a few religious references...
At my high school graduation party, my father roasted a whole hog, and he apolgized in the prayer for the low price of the hog. Since that time, whenever he is asked to say grace he tries to incorporate a joke. He does not attempt to think of a joke before he starts the prayer. Many of his jokes have not landed well.
re: John E.
however, the hog paid a much bigger price... reminds me of the chicken who bragged that she gave up her eggs for her owner's breakfast. of course, she was speaking to the pig who gave up his bacon as a much bigger sacrifice.
i think i remember reading that most early people gave thanx to the animal for giving up his spirit, as the people prepared to be infused with that spirit.
If it's given, we will generally acknowledge that the animal we are eating gave it's life to sustain us. Or, we can give thanks to those who grew the food.
I have no religious faith, nor do I know anyone who has. As such, I have little experience of grace being said and no experience in a family/friends context.
On rare occasions in the past, I've attended a formal meal/banquet where grace has been said. It has always been a religious matter and, generally speaking, a Christian matter - praising God for the food. As such, it's never occured to me that there might be a secular version or that there might be a need for one. That said, if the OP wants to make some form of statement before eating, then I'm sure she will find the words to express what she wants to express.
We ALWAYS start the nightly meal with a simple toast...."to ending the day with joy and wine"...."to the chef"..." To being thankful for today"..."to feeling lucky that we have each other", etc, etc.
For meals with guests and special occasions, we toast and sometimes we read from a favorite, (appropriate poem/passage), inspirational book.
If a guest is religious and indicates they want to bow heads and give a prayer, we are fine with that as well.
Due to my girlfriend liking to take pictures of food typically I say:
Before digging in.
Otherwise I'd say nothing. I'm hungry. The food is getting cold. I'm not waiting for anything.
We are a mixed faith family. We generally say
For this and all our blessings, we are truly grateful.
Our family is atheist, but my husband, I, and 8-year-old son always say "grace." We either have a minute of silence where we listen to the sounds around us and think about what we are thankful for (my son loves this because he begins and ends the minute with a pretty "clink" of his knife to his water glass), or we say my son's Montessori blessing:
We are thankful for the food before us
We are thankful for the friends beside us
We are thankful for the love among us
We are thankful.
Quakers usually begin meals with a short period of silence, often introduced with someone saying something like "let's give thanks for food and fellowship" . This seems suitable for secular grace too, as it doesn't specify who one is giving thanks to, just a general thanksfulness for the two important components of a good meal.
So "Over the lips through the gums look out tummy here it comes." don't cut it no more ? ;-)
I'm Christian, my family is Christian. I have many Christian and non-Christian friends and relatives alike. We do a LOT of family meals throughout the year, and those meals start with a random person chosen to give thanks. If that person isn't a Christian, the grace goes something like (paraphrase):
"We are thankful to be together here today, to be with everyone, to share, laugh, eat and love. We are reminded of the many in the world who are less fortunate. Thank you and peace be with you."
That's the general non-Christian version, but if the leader is Christian then additional references to God and Jesus are added in. Everyone's ok with that, even new members to the families.
If there are times when a pre-meal "moment" isn't quite possible, individuals would say their own grace or have a moment of silence.
I do the same if I'm eating with friends and/or colleagues. And a toast of whatever beverages each person has on hand is a nice way to start the meal, or break the ice if there's someone new in the group.
I think any expressions of thankfulness before a meal is a good thing, esp. in this day and age amongst the younger folks.
Many good suggestions here; the Zen is probably my favorite. Thanks to all of you for understanding where I'm coming from on this.
My grandfather in law always concludes the traditional "come lord Jesus" with
let there be a goodly share, on every table everywhere
The grace we say is one my kids learned at a church-based preschool. It's not exactly secular because it addresses God, but it's secular enough that people are generally not offended by it:
"Thank you God for happy hearts, for rain and sunny weather. Thank you for the food we eat and that we're all together."
We do this thank-you prayer at bedtime (I think it came out of a book):
"Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the world so sweet.
Thank you for my family,
Thank you God for loving me.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.
For each and every child I pray,
Thank you for this special day.
I am not a christian, but was raised in a very religious family. i have no problem with grace when prayed by others - it seems nice - but when it falls to me I like to thank the cook, and the friends and family present for being together to break bread and share salt.
Like a number of CHers who have responded I am not a Christian. The comcept of saying 'Grace' before a meal is alien to me. In fact, Judaism has a Grace after Meals.
If I am present a a meal where someone says Grace befire a meal, I sit silently with a slight smile on my face.
The few times that I have been asked to say grace before a meal, I always reply, "That honor belongs to our host."
My family usually holds hands and we each say something we're thankful for that day. We conclude with a toast of "Cheers"!