A couple of years ago I was with friends in a restaurant in Toronto. At the table next to ours a rather “affluent-looking” group of young men and women were gathered for dinner. As their meal arrived they all made the sign of the cross and proceeded to share a most beautiful and moving grace before meals. It wasn’t a rote grace but one in which they gave thanks for the gifts of the Earth, the work of human hands, and remembered in their prayer, those in the city who were poor, hungry and lonely that night. What a powerful witness of simple gratitude! Such an action has the power to move us, to change our concepts, our life, our world for the good of the Earth, for all our neighbors.
Gratitude is one of the central themes in the Encyclical, Laudato Si’. Pope Francis claims that destruction of the environment and the related impoverishment of peoples finds its source in the human heart turned in on itself – a heart that is lacking in gratitude. He says: Humans have ceased to look upon “our Sister, Mother Earth” as a gift to be received (Laudato Si’ # 1). We have come to believe that we can “plunder her at will.” (Laudato Si’ # 2). The Encyclical then calls us to a conversion toward gratitude.
A simple way to strengthen our “attitude of gratitude” is through the practice of grace before meals. This serves as a powerful reminder of our utter dependence on God for the gifts of life, of the Earth, of other’s generosity toward us. God is the Creator and Sustainer of all living things and from God comes every good gift (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1: 16-17; James 1:17). Living in a generally materially comfortable society, it is easy to forget this abundance which we enjoy. Praying grace before meals permits us to stop momentarily to acknowledge God’s gifts and to give thanks.
Giving thanks before meals, imitates Christ himself. As we read in Scripture, Jesus frequently gave thanks at meals. Notably at the Last Supper he took bread and gave thanks, broke it as very gift of himself (Mathew 26: 26-28). This thankfulness and associated self-gift of sharing food, was also evident before the feeding of the multitudes. Thus, as we give thanks we are reminded of those who do not have what is rightfully theirs. Thankfulness calls us to self-gift and to share the goods of the Earth. Praying grace can awaken us to the realities of global inequity, to reasons for our current ecological decline, and to related human suﬀering.
In his moving book, Living the Sabbath, Norman Wirzba says that in giving thanks we are able to turn our eating into a “focal practice,” a practice that gives us some understanding of our current food economy and its many abuses. He asks: “Can we really enjoy a meal if the food is produced in an unwholesome manner, or in a way that exhausts or poisons land and water or unjustly treats farmers and food producers?” Acknowledging the gift of healthy food “will most likely require us to shop diﬀerently by frequenting local markets,” by forming partnerships in direct marketing with farmers, by becoming gardeners to produce some of our own food. Wirzba says: “This small practical shift, when done by enough people, will have enormous implications for our food economy – the big, heavily subsidized producers will be replaced by local organic growers. The net eﬀect will be that we think diﬀerently about food. It will be understood no longer as mere fuel but as the gift of God that it is.”
Praying grace mindfully and in the context of our world today can lead us to become more intentional in our eating and more involved in those initiatives that seek to right the wrongs of global food inequalities. Perhaps we will eat less meat to impact the global growth of crops that could indeed, “feed the world.”
When our simple graces become more than rote words – they become true reminders of the gifs of our lives, food, water, companionship, and of all we are called to become gif in response. They can lead us to become better carers of our Earth and people of open hearts and hands. They can invite us to live more simply, that others may simply live!
(Images sourced from Google Images)