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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. John Richardson

    Why doesn't the Urschleim ever get the credit that the Urschleim deserves for these sorts of things? Would it really kill you all to srop and say: Yo, Urschleim! Thanks a bunch! I owe ya! Let's do lunch!"

    Seems the least we could do ...

    June 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • lyd

      Ironic that you're idiotic enough to put your whole name next to that idiotic comment.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @lyd May the Urschleim have mercy on your soul, oh pathetically cowardly anonymous one!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  2. Ari

    national headlines? front page? CNN what on earth are you doing – this belief blog is simply ridiculous and far beneath a national news organization

    June 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • lyd

      I disagree.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Stop Deluding Yourself

      National Headlines ? It's a blog article, buried on an inside page. You actively clicked to get here. No one forced you to do that.
      It's about the clicker "counter". They get to charge for advertising for every click you make here. Nothing else.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • i wonder

      Stop Deluding Yourself: In all fairness, the article was presented originally as a headline story... and even now is a "Featured Story" on the main page.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  3. Colin

    Dear God:

    Thank you for the food I am about to eat. I am sorry that so many others are starving and that, in the time it takes me to recite this prayer, more than a few small children will have succ.umbed to hunger, blow flies crawling out of their mouths, their mothers’ emaciate and vacuous bre.asts unable to provide enough milk. Tell me though, Lord, why is it you so hate these poor little children, even though you really love me?

    June 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • trigtwit...America's favorite tard baby

      I like to play with my tally whacker when Sarah's not looking...

      June 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • 4mercy

      God loves them just as everyone else. They suffer because we don't live in an egalitarian society anymore- because of the way MAN has chosen to live. If you feel that guilty about all your luxurious food, sell the computer on which you are typing and send the money to feed the poor. If you have any other luxuries, you could do the same with those as well (for instance, flat screen tv's, extra cars, ipods, ipad, i-whatever electronic device, money spent on the things that you "really" don't need.) We all have a cross to bear in life – theirs is apparently different from yorus. Suffering in life is not without purpose in God's eyes but it is something we have a hard time comprehending.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Colin

      4mercy – your dichromatic view of the World has the added bonus of making your sky-god immune to disproof – or even disapproval. Every time something good happens, the fortuitous event is unquestionably attributed to your god’s infinite goodness, but everything bad in the World is self-servingly ascribed to the waywardness of man.

      Or put another way, life is EXACTLY how we would expect it to be if there were no god – unfair, unequal, short and completely biological.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Siyajkak

      it's true, it is man. There is no evidence of the world – wide starvation in older times because people lived more on nature. Today, the rich nations suck the poor dry, leaving nothing for their inhabitants. that's what globalization has done for the world. God gave us fruits of the earth enough for everyone to live comfortably. He also gave us free will however, so if people are starving, its our fault, not His

      June 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • I_get _it

      Siyajkak,

      Ah yes, those evil Middle Eastern nomadic goat herders, with all of their emissions, caused all of those droughts, famines, storms and pestilence reported in the Bible!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Ultra Atheist

      Earthquakes, childhood leukemia, plane crashes are all a result of our free will. See God cannot stop these things from happening he can only intervene and save a lucky few, certainly not everyone though.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Sly You are either profoundly ignorant or a liar. Starvation has been a known problem throughout human history. A truly global economy is one of the better ways to combat it,

      June 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • You've Got It Wrong

      If this is your prayer, you need to spend some time reflecting. You might find that it should probably go something like: "Why do I hate these people so much that I won't answer your call to be the answer to their prayers for food." We are God's hands here on Earth.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Stop Deluding Yourself

      @4mercy
      So no one starved "back in the day" when human communities were disconnected ?

      June 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • John Richardson

      4mercy – Your conception of economic history is as muddled as your conception of divinity.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  4. xebob

    I have never quite understood the importance of giving thanks for your food. It's you or your spouse that put that food on the table by paying for it. Also the farmer who grew it, the picker who picked it, the trucker who transported it and the store employees who sold it all had a hand in it as well. To simplify things, just thank yourself.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • 4mercy

      It's the natural world that God created that watered the plants and animals we use for food and that created all those humans who transported it, those who worked for the money to pay for it, those who gave us the jobs to earn the money...and so on and so on. He gives us health and nutrition from these creations. In turn, we owe Him our thanks and adoration for providing that which satisfies our needs. Thank you, God!

      June 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Linda

      I give thanks to God, for creating me and loving me so much, for the air I breathe, that my children are alive and well, for food and shelter, for friends and family. Everything comes from God our Father.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • lyd

      Try doing all that without God's rain, without His animals, His crops, His soil, His sun, His bees, His earth. You'll starve to death with a trillion dollars in your pocket.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Charlie Sheen is the reincarnation of Jesus! Prostrate Yourselves Now!

      I have done without "God's rain, without His animals, His crops, His soil, His sun, His bees, His earth." I use the real ones instead.

      When am I going to get those trillions of dollars you promised?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mildred the Mouth

      @4mercy
      Well now. There's a step in the right direction. "It's the natural world that God created that watered the plants and animals we use for food and that created all those humans". At least you're not saying god created all those humans.

      June 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  5. Jesusfreaker

    I couldn't agree more.

    "Thank you God for choosing to feed me rather than feeding those starving people that will die today."

    The fact that you are the offspring of a species that has the capability of providing for you while another person is not fortunate enough to be in that situation, is not some divine plan. If it is a divine plan then that is one sick god you've got there.

    I like the authors approach. Leave God out it.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  6. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LRx9jpfwW8&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Eye for an Eye, Spam for Spam

      Go get him, Spamwar! Maybe CNN will finally ban the posting of videos – of course, they would have to replace their Civil War vintage forum soft-ware, so maybe they won't.

      But do throw in some funny ones like George Carlin

      June 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  7. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb2uB4_7CBY&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLIKAyzeIw4&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  9. lilwayne YAYUH!

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

    June 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy6XaHpnkEg&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  11. helovesyou butnowihavetoleavetorockoutinmymetalband enjoy

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3ZAGBL6UBA&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  12. Dm1

    You know, I really like the blessing that she says! Though I personally am Christian, it's a blessing that can be said with my friends of all different religious and spiritual affiliations. I'll really have to suggest this to my family. We usually don't say blessings before meals, but it seems like a wonderful way to encourage togetherness and to count our blessings – to be thankful for our lives and the time we have together.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Nicole

      You are a christian but you don't pray before meals? Ok, Well if you are Christian you acknowledge and give thanks to God even if your friends don't this is a prayer I say before every meal: "Dear Lord thank you for the food that we are about to receive into our bodies may it add nourishment to our mind, body and spirit in Jesus name we pray, Amen"

      June 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  13. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doKkOSMaTk4&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  14. helovesyou

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

    June 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Ravi's Evil

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSmTPThWD_c&w=640&h=360]

      June 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  15. Spamwar!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x45EOzMJA5o&w=640&h=360]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  16. atheistbewrizong

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsyhpZxKa3I&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Spamwar!

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dskEn4j4Zmk&w=640&h=360]

      June 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  17. Ron

    I thought the blessing was rather simple and beautiful!

    June 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  18. pleasedotell

    Believers post blogs & nonbelievers typically are the first to complain. Nonbelievers post blogs & nonbelievers are still the first to complain. There's no pleasing nonbelievers.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Sean

      We can be pleased, but always fooled.

      June 13, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  19. Ohmybuddha

    I was buddhist before. My mother taught me to put my hands together and bow/pray when I was a kid. There was no chantting nor prayer. It was a silent pray to thank Heavens for good blessings.
    I'm secular, now. I don't believe eastern mistisizm crap nor Creationism but I sitll put my hands together before my meals. Godspeed.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I was raised a Methodist, but I got better, too!

      June 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  20. frank

    I thank Great Crom for my mutton and fervently beg that the hormones its riddled with make my woman's breasts grow fatter.

    June 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
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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.