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My Faith: How saying a blessing changed my secular family's meals
June 12th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faith: How saying a blessing changed my secular family's meals

Editor's Note: Katia Hetter is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNN

"Hey, we didn't sing the blessing!"

After all these months, my 3-year-old daughter's words still startle me.

Since my family's move from New York to Atlanta, Georgia, last year, almost everything in our lives has changed. That includes the instruction of a blessing before eating. We do it to take a pause from the business of our schedules and to remember all that is good in our lives.

I like our new tradition, but it still surprises me. I rarely heard a blessing spoken before a meal during my childhood.

For one thing, we'd always had a mix of religions around my family’s table. My mom is Jewish and my dad was Lutheran. One person's blessing could exclude another person from the moment, even if neither parent was particularly religious.

I also had family and friends who were religious and those who were not. Who wanted to jeopardize congeniality at the table by invoking one version of God, knowing it wasn't another person's higher power?

As an adult, I continued to uphold my family’s tradition of eschewing spoken prayers at meals. I didn't want someone else's idea of God on my plate in my own house.

Yet I had an inkling that was missing, as I harbored a secret sense of gratitude that powers beyond me had brought bounty to my table.

The author and her daughter say a blessing before eating.

That feeling had crystallized in Thanksgiving in 1999, when I sat as a young adult at my friends' table at their Manhattan apartment. My hosts, Jennifer and Jason, shared their prayer and guests were coaxed into sharing gratitude lists. It was a lovely moment, with people stopping to think about what we had instead of what we wanted.

Later, when I started attending fancy foodie dinner parties with my spouse, where the work involved in preparing the food was enormous, the chef often got applause. But rarely was there any thanks for the people who tended the crops and animals or for the earth that nourished it all.

Around that same time, prayer began to enter my life on an occasion because of my father-in-law, who always says a Christian prayer of thanks at the dinner table. I saw the way it quieted the family and brought everyone together.

Last fall, my child's pre-school teacher introduced a blessing in her classroom, which is housed in an Atlanta, Georgia church but isn't religious (except about being green, recycling and composting).

"The blessing came from my wanting the children to appreciate their food and coming together," my daughter’s teacher told me.

Every child in the classroom knows not to take a bite of snack or lunch before holding hands and blessing the food. Although there isn't any mention of any particular God, a sacred feeling seems to come over the wiggly bunch of 2- and 3-year-olds as they recite it from heart:

Blessings on the blossoms,
Blessing on the fruits,
Blessings on the leaves and stems,
Blessings on the roots,
Loving hands together as we say,
Blessings on our meal,
And our time together.

Does the mention of God matter? If it does to you, yes. What matters to me is that my toddler seemed to benefit from the experience of a blessing, of acknowledging something greater than herself, and we followed her lead.

We haven't deconstructed it or edited it to include concepts she doesn't yet understand. We added "and we're grateful for our family" because she added it.

When my daughter asked that we say this blessing at the dinner table, I simply said yes and wrote it out on a blue sticky note for us to recite. I knew right away that it filled my need for some gratitude shared with family and thanks for everyone who worked to put that food on our table.

When we hold hands and say it or some version of it, we are transformed. We are consciously a family in that moment, grateful and present for each other and our food, regardless of the day's events. It is a sacred moment for me.

And although I'm still the grumpy person I've always been, I'm happier because of my daughter's introduction of a mealtime blessing. I am more likely to stop when I'm upset and remember my blessings because I have practice speaking them out loud.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Katia Hetter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Food • Opinion • Prayer

soundoff (928 Responses)
  1. TheDebateIsOverHaventYouHeard

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maoGItxwTTA&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  2. Ruben

    Blessings are beautiful! Faith,Hope,and Love.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  3. TheDebateIsOverHaventYouHeard

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1e4FUhfHiU&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  4. skatti

    A free lance writer needed a story. Wow- praise god.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Jesus

      You want a real life story? Here's a real life story. My wife cooked a dinner for 18 and one of the guest started a prayer, "Thank you Lord for these...". At the end I chimed in and said, "Thank you (my wife) for preparing a great meal and thanks to the farmers for growing great veggies etc". Everyone was stunned. Nobody said anything for about 10 seconds and then one by one, they all started to offer their thanks to my wife. To remain quiet while some dolt expresses his childish beliefs is wrong. I encourage ALL non believers and irreligious types to SPEAK OUT!!

      June 12, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Frogist

      LOL@ Jesus: Excellent story. People are quick to forget those who have contributed who exist right around them in lieu of acknowledging some far of deity who may or may not even exist.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • AndMaybeYourWifeGivesThanksThatShesNotStarvingUnderAnOppressiveRegimeAndHasFoodToCookFor18People

      Certainly, thanks to the meal preparer, but please do not be so quick to discount grace.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_%28prayer%29

      June 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  5. Blake

    Why dont you just thank the farmers? Or the people who pave the roads the food is carried on? Or the person who makes the money in the family? God did jack cause he's just an concept of the mind.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  6. Paul

    This deserves a big picture at the top of their web site? It's not news, it's a revelation of the sloppy thinking of a free-lancer.

    I think some religious editor is pushing an agenda here.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Jesus

      Here's a real life story. My wife cooked a dinner for 18 and one of the guest started a prayer, "Thank you Lord for these...". At the end I chimed in and said, "Thank you (my wife) for preparing a great meal and thanks to the farmers for growing great veggies etc". Everyone was stunned. Nobody said anything for about 10 seconds and then one by one, they all started to offer their thanks to my wife. To remain quiet while some dolt expresses his childish beliefs is wrong. I encourage ALL non believers and irreligious types to SPEAK OUT!!

      June 12, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. Charles

    What a ridiculous article.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • I Think I Will Go Read Kundera Instead of this Drivel

      Agreed. The article is insipid beyond words. CNN sure gets desperate for content .

      June 12, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  8. Hey CNN

    When can I have a column. I can't imagine that any random musings that I fart out would be more thoughtless, incoherent and stupid than most of your religion blog.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • John

      I read it because im interested. You read it because you're not. And you think the BLOG is stupid?

      June 12, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Clay

      If you don't like it, don't read it. There are plenty of other news networks to read. If you don't know any, I can give you a list of a few.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Nonimus

      Can't the same logic be applied to the comments.
      If you don't like someone's comment, then don't read it.

      June 13, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Frogist

      Just curious... but how exactly are you supposed to not read it if you don't like it? You have to read it to find out if you like it!

      June 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Silence

    What a sad world we live in. To only give thanks and not necessarily to our creator, and believing it is only for the purpose of bringing the family together is not really giving thanks. This author believes she has to justify giving thanks so no one will think she is religious.
    Give thanks for all that you have and the fact that you live in a country with so much abundance. Share what you have and be thankful to God. Don't worry about political correctness.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  10. Supremeamerican

    What a beautiful family. God bless you guys, secularist or not, there is no favorites with God. What a wonderful story, thanks CNN.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'there is no favorites with God'
      Well actually apparently the Jews are the favorites, well so says their religious book.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Jesus

      You haven't read the Bible or Quran. Believers in a particular faiths are the favorites. Others will burn in everlasting pain. It's the same throughout time and in each of the major religions. Each religion says, believe in our dogma or suffer. Each religion's Gawd hates the nonbeliever.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • KeithTexas

      If they are gods chosen people I bet they ask him to choose someone else next time.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  11. Jesusin

    What a shame, 3 years old and getting the programming of dumb already. That's what happen when you go to live to the Bible Belt. We should take the girl north for a better life. Remeber Elians Gonzalez case?

    June 12, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Supremeamerican

      You should probably say a blessing to get rid of that ignorance and arrogance you are parading around as if it were a gold medallion. Bless you sir.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Jesusin

      SuperAssmerican go and pray for me ok? But sit in a corner and be silent if possible.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  12. David

    Does CNN really think this qualifies as front page news? Isn't there something more important going on in the world that should be on the front page?????

    June 12, 2011 at 2:14 am |
    • Jesusin

      Is summer man, we have to eat this kind of crap and on top of that they want we pray, right!

      June 12, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • KeithTexas

      No you idiot, Cnn doesn't think that. This is a portion of CNN's web coverage that is here every week. If you don't like it don't read it.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  13. Herp Derp

    Hey while we're at it why don't we pray to cure cancer, and do a rain dance for Arizona...

    June 12, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  14. bam

    just another thing forced on kids who then grow up and get angry if a non believer questions them.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Clay

      I'm sorry you feel that way, Bam. I would hope that those who follow an organized religion would restrain from getting angry at a non-believer during a discussion. I love this idea though. Children need a small understanding at an early age of what's going on around them. There are children their age who don't get to eat and it's important to take a moment before each meal to give thanks and really appreciate what you have.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:24 am |
  15. Godlite

    A blessing, by definition: 1. Asking God's favor and protection.

    If you are secular or non-religious, you CAN'T say a blessing before dinner. You would be asking for something you don't believe in. Think about it. I agree with the poster above – say thanks to someone who made the meal, or cleaned the dishes. But don't call it a blessing – it isn't.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • bam

      or u cant keep your beliefs out of their life.
      You point out the major problem with "religion" these people can't do that because my religion says its wrong.
      u r are at the Sunni Shia problems

      June 12, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • John

      Definition from websters " Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity; a boon."

      June 12, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  16. bu

    ALL Religion is a disease of the Mind! Be part of the cure, not the problem!

    Help cure the religion disease!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • John

      Jesus hated religion too. You two have something in common. But this article isnt about religion.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • bam

      European countries are progressing away from religion where the United States has major issues.
      Americans know only luxury and have no idea how it is to live in another country

      June 12, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • Amaka

      It is true that many people aren't afforded the opportunity to travel. But Americans do travel more than any other nation's people. The issue is more of a social capital one. Where are you going. Are you at a resort or in the village. I commend programs like Peace Core for exposing Americans to the hard life that exist throughout the world.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  17. Jamie

    As of yet nothing is greater than man in terms of intelligence and ability. Sorry. If you're thanking yourself for being able to afford the food fine. .otherwise you're being an ignorant hayseed.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  18. John

    Just having dinner together as a family is like a blessing these days.. With cell phones in the basket by the front door

    June 12, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  19. Joe G

    My girlfriend and our two roommates say thanks for one thing each before dinner. We thank real things though, not god or anything like that.

    For example, we often thank the chef, or someone who cleaned the house earlier.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • John

      To some people, God is a real thing. You can just make your point without insulting anothers.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • Godlite

      "To some people, God is a real thing"

      And, your point is? They made a very good choice by thanking people who actually did the work. A hand in work is work ten thousand in prayer.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • John

      My point is. The poster said they thanked real things, as if God isnt real. And some people think it is. Thats like me saying i dont give thanks to the cook because he doesnt matter. That wouldnt make much sense would it. I cant explain it any more than that.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:14 am |
    • Amaka

      I believe the point is that God is real. You can thank whoever you like but you don't need to discount God.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • LinCA

      @Amaka.

      Which god is real? Zeus? Ra? Allah? Thor? Any one of the thousands of others? All of them?

      June 12, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Jesusin

      Evrybody knows the only real one is Santaclaus that bring toys in Christmas. Or may be he is the 4th element missed in the trinity... now that woul be the quadnity?

      June 12, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Noigiler

      @John
      "To some people, God is a real thing."

      Just because some believe in God, doesn't make it a "real thing." A real thing is objectively observable. God is decidedly not. Until humans start using their brains to distinguish between faith and reality, we will continue killing each other as it is clearly impossible for all the godly beliefs to be "real."

      June 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Frogist

      @John: I think maybe you need to understand the difference between disagreeing and insulting. There was nothing even remotely rude in JoeG's post. Overreactions like yours only serve to cloud the discussion.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  20. sasha

    that's the most beautiful music i've heard in a very long time

    June 12, 2011 at 1:56 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.