“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
When I first joined the Catholic Church almost seven years ago, one of the biggest things that I had to get used to was formalized prayer. After all, I was coming from twenty-five years of not practicing organized religion in my life at all, and many of the forms and rituals of the Church were very foreign concepts to my free-wheeling, home schooled, hippie upbringing. Repeating memorized prayers on specified occasions wasn’t something that I really got at first. And even now that I understand it all a little better, it takes a certain presence of mind to actually pray these prayers, instead of just repeating them without thought. However, I have also discovered true benefits and untold graces from these formal prayers, when I make sure to truly pray them with intention and reverence.
The most remarkable benefit I have realized lately has come from the habit of praying before meals, usually known as “saying grace.”
Though a habit that I am still working to cultivate more, praying before my meals has really helped to alter my entire attitude towards food. First, it forces me to pause and pay attention that I am about to sit down and consume something, rather than just mindlessly eating because food happens to be in front of me. “Mindful eating” is a big buzzword these days, but it can be hard to put into practice if you don’t really know what you are supposed to be mindful of or if you aren’t used to just taking a moment to reflect on the present moment. Taking that moment to pray over my food helps to ground me and focus on what is in front of me, not what is on my phone, or the television, or running through my mind. Second, praying before meals helps me to be grateful for the fact that I am able to eat at all and to recognize God’s generosity and bounty. I know that I am extremely blessed to have money and access to quality food, to have the freedom to make my own choices about what I consume, and to have the peace of mind to truly enjoy what I cook and eat. Food is meant to be nourishment for our bodies, the best medicine that God has given us, and also nourishment for our souls, which is why so much of it is delicious and why “breaking bread” is such a central aspect of our communities and relationships. These are things that we don’t always appreciate enough.
I have been doing a lot of work and reading over the last few years to change my attitude and understanding towards food. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever, and most recently Joel Salatin’s Folks, This Ain’t Normal have done the most to help realign my thinking towards a more proper and healthy attitude towards food, rather than the obsessive diet and “foodie” mentality that so much of our culture promotes. (okay, I am still somewhat of a “foodie”, but a pretty grounded one, I like to think.) These books have helped me to understand the value of the food that we consume, the reality of what most of our food culture is like these days, and how to get back to basics and eat the way that we were meant to eat, from both a dietary and a mental standpoint. But the thing that has most reinforced these messages, that has taught me gratitude, acceptance, and humility, is the little prayer that I try to say before each meal.
It is such a little thing, to pray before a meal, but if you stop and actually think about what you are doing, what the purpose is, then it can truly change your perception of so much.
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