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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. Friend

    Pagans engage in moral chaos and slaughter babies and call themselves peaceful. They haven't changed a bit. The American and Canadian pagans are the worst case in history of mankind since they do it knowing how evil it is.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Please provide support for your claim that pagans slaughter children.

      June 13, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • LinCA

      @HotAirAce.

      At no time during, or before, the making of any statement by @Friend were any rational thoughts put in harms way.

      June 13, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Please define "moral chaos". I do not know what you mean with those words.

      I am Pagan. I have very definitive morals that include not murdering or stealing, not engaging in behavior that would cause undo harm to anyone, protecting the innocent, giving to the poor and needy, supporting the elderly, among other things.

      Where is the chaos?

      June 13, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Jose

      @HotAirAce –

      I'm not sure what Friend was referencing, but there are several accounts of the burning of children to the pagan god Molech.

      June 13, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yes, we all remember the Pagan Inquisition...

      June 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      In Judges 11:29-40, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter to repay God for helping him slaughter the Ammonites.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Jose, so we're still judging modern people by something that happened in ancient times? There is no denying that at various times and in various regions, Pagans of old did in fact practice ritual human sacrifice. However, implying that because that is true it remains true that modern Pagans living in the US (or anywhere else in the world) also participate is far fetched and fallacious.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jose

      myweightinwords –

      I was just providing the information requested. I made no implications based on how I feel towards pagans. There are very peaceful pagans, just as there are very harmful Christians. However, since you brought it up, I agree that it is unfair to label a particular group of people based on what happened ages ago.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Artist

      Friend

      Pagans engage in moral chaos and slaughter babies and call themselves peaceful. They haven't changed a bit. The American and Canadian pagans are the worst case in history of mankind since they do it knowing how evil it is.
      --------–
      Wow Adelina you are the most naive person I have ever run into. I am guessing you are not far into college if that.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And don’t forget the Pagan Crusades!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And don’t forget the ritualistic cannibalization of the Pagan messiah!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      @ Artist: YOU are the naive one! Pagans have done plenty of killing, sacrificing, etc. Do some research!

      No one is perfect......... no one claims to be. Christians, just do the best we can to follow Jesus' Great Commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you."

      Again, NO ONE is perfect. Humans both Christians and NON-Christians have plenty of blood on our hands! The BIG difference is that Christians, have a GOD that FORGIVES THEM for their sins, over and over. And this, Artist........ is an amazing thing!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      @ Hot Aire: There is plenty of evidence that pagans slaughtered children, one example are the Mayans, of what is now Mexico. Human sacrifice was common among them. IF you want prove......... do your own research its easy enough!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And don’t forget about how those pagans forced Jews and other non-believers to be baptized and the slaughter of those who refused to convert, from the 4th century until Auschwitz!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      http://notachristian.org/christianatrocities.html

      Yay Jesus!

      June 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Meh

      "The BIG difference is that Christians, have a GOD that FORGIVES THEM for their sins, over and over."

      lol

      June 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • JohnR

      Our funny little friend is using 'pagan' as an all-purpose perjorative for non-believers and I'm sure slaughtering babies refers to abortion. Not sure where our funny little friend is from, but North America is hardly the only place where abortion is legal and fairly common.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • JohnR

      Or illegal and fairly common, for that matter.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Laughing

      @Peacemaker

      Wow, so your name is supposed to be ironic right?
      Like "meh" said, ""The BIG difference is that Christians, have a GOD that FORGIVES THEM for their sins, over and over."

      I fail to see how you can consider this right in any way, shape or form. You think it's an amazing thing that murders and rapists can be forgiven and basically die without an ounce of remorse for their acts because they've already been forgiven? Personally, I would rather someone who's committed a heinious act to always strive for forgiveness from the people he's directly hurt. Just a thought you know?

      June 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      @Jose,

      You're being just a little disingenuous, aren't you? The question was for proof that Pagans slaughter children–present tense. You immediately jumped to an ancient practice. Immediately, as if what the followers of some random middle eastern god did thousands of years ago actually matters today.

      Good deeds and evil deeds alike abound in modern society, don't get me wrong, and they are perpetrated by Christians, Jews, Buddhist, Atheists, Pagans, Mormons, etc. No one religion holds the patent on good or evil.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      @Peacemaker

      You said, "No one is perfect......... no one claims to be. Christians, just do the best we can to follow Jesus' Great Commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you.""

      And where that is actually true, it's all good. However, in my experience a very vocal segment of modern Christianity is more concerned with what I do, who I love, who I pray to, and all the ways they can point out that is wrong with these things than actually following that particular commandment.

      You also said, "Again, NO ONE is perfect. Humans both Christians and NON-Christians have plenty of blood on our hands! The BIG difference is that Christians, have a GOD that FORGIVES THEM for their sins, over and over. And this, Artist........ is an amazing thing!"

      The important thing here is that Christians have a god that convinces them that they NEED forgiveness. Without that need where are you? When I need forgiveness, I go to the one I have wronged and seek it from them. In my experience, that does not include having to prostate myself to a Deity who is angry that I am exactly as I was born to be.

      June 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Friend and Peacemaker

      You are clearly just spewing bullish!it, which is not surprising given that you apparently subscribe to the bullish!it christian myth. You two made an outrageous claim and are completely unable to support with facts from modern times, just as you have nothing to support the existence of any god, never mind jesus.

      Just in case you were implicitly referring to abortion when you claimed that pagans slaughter babies, I remind you that believers account for 70% of the abortions in the USA. Unlike you, I can provide supporting data for this claim – all you have to do is google "abortion statistics by religion." In addition to numerous facts about abortion, you will find that the so called pro lifers refer to this data.

      Time for you two to "put up or shut up!"

      June 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  2. myweightinwords

    As a Pagan myself, I often shy away from traditions that were a part of my life when I was Christian, and saying grace before a meal is one of them that I kind of still have a knee j-erk reaction to...which is silly I suppose.

    A little thankfulness is a good thing. And practicing it daily like this can only lead to a more peaceful life.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Peacemaker

      As a Christian, I say, thank you for your comment. It was very nice, indeed. Somewhere down deep in your heart there is still a small shred of ........ faith.

      Peace to you.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  3. Friend

    Great Britain had an heir called USA, but USA has none except the 2.3 billion Christians all around the world. 0.1 billion Chinese Christians are among them.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  4. Friend

    America can no longer withstand the international challenges because she no longer cares about liberation of everyone on earth but who is the richest or who is the mightiest. Your forefathers were not like that. Wake up. Peverts and baby-killers don't win wars but get enslaved by pagans and tyrants.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard

      "The thorazine isn't working!"

      "Shall I get the lithium?"

      "No, go straight for the mallet!"

      June 13, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • myweightinwords

      How is this a response to the article? Or are you just off on a rant?

      June 13, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  5. gangstarr

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw7jR5nGpdY&w=640&h=390]

    June 13, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  6. Friend

    American Christians, your nation is seriously sick. (Read this news article for a proof) Please take it to heart. When USA gets hit, many will suffer, since there is no other great nation who will toil to set up justice on earth like USA does.

    June 13, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard

      Adelina Frederica FairGarden Friend is haveng another psychotis episode! Put her in a padded cell and whack her up with thorazine immediately!

      June 13, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • myweightinwords

      You do realize that this isn't a "news" article at all, but an opinion piece, right?

      And how do you jump from someone talking about showing grat-itude for the people who produce the food she is eating and feeding her family to your ranting about what you perceive as justice?

      June 13, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  7. Yanko

    Hola,

    Hemos creado una nueva red social para todos aquellos que tienen FE y buscan "algo mas..". Os invitamos a conocernos: http://www.wpray4u.com.

    Un saludo.

    June 13, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  8. Friend

    Secular USA = a headless state without glory or meaning or significance. Only sucessful in polluting its own youth and other nations. The Bible says God punishes anyone who leads nations astray. USA is not exempt.

    June 13, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  9. Friend

    The separation of Church and State and democracy work when the citizens are moral, responsible and noble-purposed. Nothing works for selfish, immoral(or amoral) and blasphemous citizens like secular Americans. They bring down a nation.

    June 13, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  10. Friend

    Humanity's selfish happiness is a curse to the entire planet and to the whole creation world. Humans polluted the air. When will secularists realize their pursuit of happiness is a woe to the air they say thanks to?

    June 13, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • John Richardson

      Actually, the Evangelicals have been amongst the most bull-headedly anti-environmentalist factions her in the US. Remember James Watt, who figured pollution was okay since Christ was about to return any moment anyway? He held a responsible, cabinet level position. I suspect that the environmental record of secular humanists is pretty, though probably also not as good as many of us probably think it is.

      June 13, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  11. Friend

    Stupid Americans should read Martin Luther King Jr. if they have time to ponder China or say thanks to the air.

    June 13, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  12. Friend

    Secular Americans are so stupid they are studying how China developed now. You won't learn anything useful. China is changing because of the Christians there and they adapted the British ways just like USA did. You should study the British history of up to 50 years ago and the entire Jewish history. USA in a perfect regression thanks to the air-worshipping secularism. You won't recover as a nation if you don't stop this stupidity now. From someone who cares for America with love ; )

    June 13, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  13. Friend

    What are the religious Jews doing now, not educating Americans? Don't they know mentally incapable Americans are useless to them? Jews, what you need are educated Christian Americans, not these pathetic air-worshippers.

    June 13, 2011 at 5:45 am |
  14. Friend

    Finally this is the beginning of the new era of secularists gone insane. From party people to peverts to self-worshiippers to saying thanks to the air! The world knew all along it was coming – just sooner in USA than expected.

    June 13, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  15. Matt

    @John Richardson
    Thanks very much for your response. I enjoyed reading your blog.
    So in a "nut shell" you believe that if a Supreme being exists: (1) He is unloving, aloof, and does not care about humans?

    June 13, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • John Richardson

      If there is a supreme being in any sense, the best bet is a Deistic "uncaused cause" (or "uncreated creator", as the Zoroastrians say). That sort of deity works at a scale at which our individual lives don't register as a blip on the screen. If this enti-ty cares about humans at all, it is at a collective level. That is, it is just barely conceivable that such a being might want to see humanity or some intelligent species somewhere achieve some level of awareness. But even that is sheer speculation grounded in nothing that the empirical world offers as evidence – and religious texts don't count as evidence. The other possible "sort of supreme" being would be a spirit that emerges not from life at the individual of the individual organism, but from lall life at a collective level. This would be something along the lines of what the tracker/primitive survivalist Tom Brown calls the "spirit that moves through all things". This being might very well be compassionate – and pretty much nothing but compassionate. It might be all loving, but because it is truly ALL loving, would not play favorites at any level. The only sort of evidence I really see for anything like this is that it may be what one is communing with when one reaches mystical states of compassion tinged with fatalistic acceptance that the world is as it is, and that is okay. (The great mythologist Joseph Campbell was big on emphasizing that the mystical state is not really an ecstatic state, but a state in which one recognizes the "okayness" of existence. Any pseudo-mystical state that is ecstatic is basically spiritual hedonism that is selfishly blind to the dark and negative that clearly exists. Hey, that's okay as an occasional needed escape. But it's not a particularly "high" state of consciousness. Indeed, it's pretty damn base.) If there are spirits who care about us as individuals, they would have to be individual level spirits that are nowhere near omnipotent and, since they can favor one only at the expense ultimately of others (it's not always a strict zero sum game out there, but things do tend in that direction). these sorts of ent-ities don't even aspire to being all loving. I don't proselytize any of this because I consider the evidence for any of it, let alone all of it, quite meager and consider faith in the absence of compelling evidence a failing, not a virtue. So don't be surprised if I never bother mentioning any of this again! I've had just enough in the way of arguably spiritual experience, however, to consider it unwise to slam the door on these possibilities altogether. And since I genuinely enjoy the search, I consider exploring these possibilities a good thing, as long as it is done in moderation and not at the expense of living some semblance of a responsible adult existence. And speaking thereof, gotta go catch up on some chores I let slide yesterday by spending so much time here! 🙂

      June 13, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  16. Casey

    And humanity has come to this.... spewing hatred, looking for any way to ridicule, and pull down another person for what they think or believe. The complete lack of basic decency, and curtacy is so disconcerting. Will we ever grow up? Blogs are like bathroom grafitti where annominity makes people think they can (and should) spew whatever vitriol they want.

    June 13, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Bippy, The Lesser Squirrel-God of Flatulent Clowns

      No, that's not it at all. The reality of it is that blogs like these let people on either side of hard issues vent their frustrations, which for many reasons they often cannot do face to face. Indeed, I bet it is the rare one amongst us who actually talks and acts this way anywhere else. Even though it looks like nasty chaos, it might be better to think of it as a form of social pressure release.

      No one wins, no one loses, no one changes their views. And everyone knows it.

      This blog is a guilty pleasure for most of us, an odd entertainment. For the believers, it is a chance to battle the supposed anti-Christs. For us non-believers, it is a chance for a bit of intellectual midget-tossing.

      Don't get all self-righteous and judgemental – join in the fun or find something else to do.

      June 13, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • gangstarr

      Yes, allow me to break it down for you. Please kindly examine the below video and you shall then have a proper view of the dynamics and mechanisms that are currently in play regarding this open discussion forum, thereby allowing yourself and others to have a broader spectrum of appreciation of the laws and properties of debate. Holla.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6H0i1RAdHk&w=640&h=390]

      June 13, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • (the real) gangstarr (but not like, the REAL Gang Starr)

      gangstarr(the fake): hahaha 😀

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

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

      😀

      June 13, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • John Richardson

      Perhaps you would prefer religious wars and witch burnings, which are the sorts of things that are still happening in some places were primitive supersti-tion holds sway and which were popular in the west before secular humanism arose to combat and literally diminish the political power of organized religion.

      June 13, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • The One Who Names the Savior of all Creatures with Odd Numbered Appendages.

      @Bippy, The Lesser Squirrel-God of Flatulent Clowns,
      Blasphemer!

      June 13, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  17. Free

    Saying how thankful you are at Thanksgiving doesn't have to be particularly religious. We still do that every year. I see no reason for a secular family not to continue with this for regular meals.

    Besides, it serves to get people's butts in their chairs so that the meal can begin while the food's still hot.

    June 13, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  18. Noemi

    I absolutely loved it!!

    June 13, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  19. Reality

    From a "flocking agnostic" as a suggestion for another prayer before meals:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus

    Amen-++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    June 12, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  20. Matt

    @John Richardson
    That's good. I was wondering what your stand is, Do you believe in a Supreme Being, are you Atheist, or Agnostic? I was reading thru all of your earlier posts and wanted the chance to ask you of your opinion, or viewpoint.

    June 12, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Debra G

      Perhaps you could say all that about yourself, Matt, before you go asking such personal questions.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I call myseld an agnostically tinged neo-animist. That is, I hold it out as a real though unproven possibility that certain spirits and spirituality are genuine phenomena emergent from biology. I don't have "faith" that this is so. I have a hunch that it might be and seek info for and against. I don't particularly mind it when people posit a supreme being in the sense of an "uncaused cause" or "uncreated creator" in their cosmology, though I tend to agree with skeptics that positing this being is not so much an explanation of existence as an admission that you can't explain it. Our true deep origins are imponderable. So I suppose people like to posit a being who understands it all so that we don't have to. I have no FAITH that such a being exists and consider any such faith as pernicious. If such a being exists, one is free to call it god, but given all the connotations that word has, it's best avoided. I do not believe in the sorts of personal gods familiarly posited in the Abrahamic religions, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism or other forms of paganism. So, in a nut shell, there is either zero gods or one "god", but if there is one god, it is a fairly abstract uncaused cause and not the sort of personal god who intrigues through history and worries about what you believe or much of anything about you. Such a god would by definition be very powerful in certain senses, but not omnipotent in the sense of being able to pull off miracles inconsistent with physical laws. It would presumably be extraordinarily intelligent and knowledgeable in certain respects, but not necessarily and likely not omniscient in the sense of knowing every detail about everything that has ever happened, let alone every detail about everything still to happen. It would not be all loving, but pretty seriously aloof. As I said, I find it uncompelling to posit any such god, but since you asked about whether I believe in something that one might plausibly call a supreme being and my answer is I consider a fairly seriously whittled down version of a supreme being possible, bit not especially likely. One other candidate for a supreme being might be a neo-animist concept of a spirit that moves through all life. There are people who posit such a being. I find the idea too poorly developed to even evaluate, but I guess I'm in principle open to it.

      June 13, 2011 at 12:00 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.