Godless Grace

We rotate hosting duties for major holiday celebrations among all of the married siblings in my wife’s large, Catholic family. At our house we have hosted Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Anniversaries… you name it. Without fail, each time the family gathers at our house and we shout, “Come to the table. The meal is ready.” , my wife’s father, Jim, will say “Who’s going to say grace?” This is always followed by a traditional Catholic,

“Bless us Oh, Lord, and These thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, Through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

I like the idea of giving thanks for the meal, but last I checked Jesus hadn’t raised a finger to put the food on our table. Jim’s action has been an irritant to me for far too many years. Would Jim go to a Jewish Seder and insist on saying grace? It’s not his house, the hosts don’t share his beliefs, nor did they ask him to share. If you’re a fan of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” you’ve seen this played out.

I know it is my own fault for not saying anything, and now 17 years into the marriage I smile and bite my lip, hoping Jim will realize his faux pas and knowing that there are bigger battles in the world. It’s tough coming down hard on an 85 year old man. Nevertheless, I try…

Once I made an end-run by rushing hot food to the table and insisting everyone dig in, but I think Jim was on to me right away. At the next event, sensing I was going for a repeat, he called everyone to the table early so that we could get grace in before the food got cold.

I thought I had reached the perfect accord one Thanksgiving, when I wrote an “Atheist Grace.” That’s my title… I didn’t call it that at Thanksgiving. We came to the table, and when Jim asked “Who’s saying grace?” I quickly jumped in.

“I’ve got it this time, Jim.” I spoke as reverently and with as much heartfelt emotion as I could impart to the words:

May we all be thankful for this food, and for every person along the path that brought it to our table.

May we all be thankful for how truly lucky we are to be HERE, today, given the alternatives in our world.

And may we all be thankful for the hearts and hands that have lifted and carried each of us to our place in life…

Turn inward, and remember and give thanks to those who helped you be who you are and where you are.

Turn outward and extend the same generosity, wisdom and friendship you have received, into the lives of others.

And when we leave this table today,
May we strive to bring a measure of happiness into the world around us
May we all take the nourishment of food, and love, and time with family
And use it to spread some good in our lives and into the world.

Enjoy this meal!

Bowed heads raised. A few casual, confused “Amens” wafted over the table. Hungry hands reached for the turkey, potatoes and gravy, and I thought I had finally made my point in a win-win way… until Jim looked at me and said, “That would have been real nice if you would have just mentioned God. Now let’s say grace. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… Bless us oh…” etc.

As Vonnegut said in “Slaughterhouse Five,” and so it goes.

Copyright 2008, All rights reserved.


2 thoughts on “Godless Grace

  1. I read this in a forum post on RichardDawkins.net. Just though I'd let you know that I brought it home to my hometown in the Bible Belt to share with the extended family over Christmas dinner. I actually thought it was really nice, and I had a couple of the newcomers ask for me to e-mail it to them so that they could share it with their families.

    I'm not exactly sure if everyone caught that it didn't mention God, as I didn't stress the point that it was a “Godless Grace”. But for the few that caught it, they approached later and said thanks for the change of pace.

    So kudos for inspiring me to take the helm from our regular prayer-giver, and for helping to spread some cheer this holiday season.

  2. Thank you, VERY much! I had always hoped my blathering and blogging would be put to use to help others with their tricky “belief” related situations. It does my heart good to know it has helped in any way at all!


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