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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. theDebateIsOver

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

    June 12, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  2. Susan

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

    June 12, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  3. kevin

    Hey Leo, you're just as bad dipstick. Because you don't believe, no one else should either. Or wait, take it even further. No one else CAN believe, because you don't.
    Hear that everyone? Leo says you're wrong, you CAN'T believe in anything, after all, Leo says so.
    Leo, your pathetic.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  4. tonybigs

    Blessings to who?

    There are many powers higher than us. Some of them do not have your well-being in mind.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  5. J

    What a sweet article. Really enjoyed reading!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  6. Ituri

    Useless dramatics, nothing more. The girl in the article clearly WANTS to believe in some "higher power," which pretty much means she is religious in disguise. Religious people in disguise like to call themselves "spiritual," while claiming religion is toxic or poison in itself, without realizing that such spiritual beliefs and behaviorally based controls are the POINT of religions in the beginning.

    There is an obsession among these non-religious spiritualists to shove their spirituality, whatever form they create it to be, onto other people, basically making them exactly the same as any other religious person who rants about their own faith. Every single one of them thinks they've found a profound lifestyle, system, or behavior that can change others lives for the better, and all of them are guilty of hubris, as they actually have no secret information at all.

    Just stop. Leave us alone, eat your badly prepped food, thank god or gaia or nature or the forest satirs or whatever you want your "higher power" to be, and just leave it at that.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Agapito Asuncion

      try to look beyond the planet earth and you will marvel ..im sure you can do levitation also if you try hard

      June 12, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • Kace

      well said.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Kace

      um, that was meant for Ituri

      June 12, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. tallulah13

    I am the power that brings the food to my table, but I think it's silly to sing my own praises.

    We had to say grace after my dad and step-mom got married. Everybody had to repeat the same phrase except when the grandparents came for dinner. My step-moms dad broke with the script and gave effusive and rambling thanks, while my dad's mother was eloquent in her agnostic silence. I always kind of dreaded saying "grace" because it felt forced and superficial.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Ituri

      Quite right. Its a time to stop and hope the "believers" in the group will at least keep their religious interruption short, and hope to god (yes, irony is with the atheist who uses this phrase) they aren't like my family, crying dramatically at the drop of a praying hat.

      The day I said "no" to leading the blessing, I swear they had deer-in-the-headlights expressions. I wasn't even rude, and it was like I'd sliced out their hearts and gnawed upon them at the kiddy table...

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

      @Lturi, you're an idiot.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  8. ThisIsTHENews

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUGFc3kuAao&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  9. Kletus

    This isn't news. Cnn is a joke. It's a bunch of entertainment news disguised as news designed to reel in gawkers and pay off advertisers. Tell me what's going on in the world or shut up.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Leo

      Its the blog... not CNN... cause Fox News is not any better... but not like you can go to Time.com or anything cus the same type of SH!T is gonna be there

      June 12, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Jowicr

      Real news doesn't exist anymore. It's all spin or this worthless drivel.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  10. Marek Boudain

    Get real, Americans are already more religious and conservative than any other western developed nation, no need to go further backwards. You get a psyhological satisfaction from the nonsense, nothing more, it's all an illusion, you need to get smart.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  11. Lily

    The concept of blessing is beyond my comprehension. When brainwashed, gullible, religious people ask their god to bless their food, what do they think their god will do? Send extra protein molecules to the peace of meat, take away some carbohydrate from the mashed potato, or add vitamin D to the food on their plate so their food will become healthier?? Seriously people!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • john

      waaaay beyond your comprehension. thats the problem

      June 12, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Ituri

      John, I think his comprehension skills are far better than yours, if thats honestly your ONLY response to his intelligent comment.

      Asking some "higher power" to bless you or your food is arrogant to start with. Serve up some e-coli salad and see if blessing it saves you from the hospital trip.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Lily

      John, so what i assumed is what your god will do? Blessing is intangible so tell me please how does it work?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • Dominique

      @john you are so right!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  12. Edwin C.

    Believe it or not, it will happen. remember these words, someday you will bow down and confess that Jesus is Lord. You will do it happily or from sorrow. Obey Acts 2:38
    God Bless

    June 12, 2011 at 2:41 am |
    • I_get _it

      "someday you will bow down and confess that Jesus is Lord. You will do it happily or from sorrow..."

      Sounds just like the egomaniacal demands of your "Satan" character.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Sean

      @Edwin C.
      I may very well one day have to face justice in The Great Big Principal's Office in the Sky. Here in this life, however, you are a goofball.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • LeShawn

      AMEN AMEN and AMEN!!!!!!!!!!! Every knee with bow and every tounge will confess.

      June 12, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  13. Tyler

    If you require a blessing to be "consciously a family in that moment", you have bigger problems than feeling like a family at dinner.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  14. Doug

    How will a child benefit by you telling them there is an invisible man in the sky ? I just can't understand the logic in that !

    June 12, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • john

      God is not a man, nor in the sky.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • pewpew

      You're right. God is imaginary.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Honey

      Doug, you're stupid.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  15. Leo

    Can people stop "recommending" this non-sense article PLEASE... the Journalist has a dumba$$ face anyways... she just studied a sh!it load....

    But we all agree this article is a waste of our time, the only time it's gained is by telling CNN how sucky this article is.... PLEASE REMOVE!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  16. love

    This is a beautiful article. It should teach something to those who have felt that this is negative in any way. Religion isonly mentioned once and the mere fact that this little girl and her mother are being guided by the love of God makes you wonder about the love God has in store for YOU. So why don't you embrace his love? 1 John 4:8

    June 12, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Leo

      This isnt a beautiful article in anyway... there's no testimonials, its only a monological view, who's getting interviewed? who else's view is in perspective?

      June 12, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • Lily

      How can you embrace the love of a fictional character? Would you embrace the love of Allah, Shiva, Krishna, or Budha? No you won't because you don't believe they exist. Sorry to burst your bubble but your god also doesn't exist. Wake up from your delusional dream!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • LP

      I think you may be confused about what this is. This isn't a news article- it's a feature. you don't have to get a bunch of interviews of people with opposing views for a feature. It's just the story of one family's practices. Do you seriously not know that? It's so sad reading these comments sometimes.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  17. ellikay

    My priest abused me while I was in charge of rhe Sunday school. Where was God then? Now I'm nearly homeless and broke, and can't find a job. Praise who?!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Leo

      Shut the paradise up! ... you got abused 'cause you got no brains... you think I let anyone put a hand on me and then blame it on God because you didnt have the will enough to defend yourself? PLEASE!

      June 12, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Todd

      Hey Leo, nice compassion. Elli, if god exists, then he is bigger than any one religion or belief. You got brain washed, much like everyone else in the god business.

      Your first step may be to forgive yourself for something that really was not your fault.

      Leo, maybe you were cynical enough at an early age not to be duped, but not everyone is so lucky.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • Sean

      @ellikay: I hope things get better for you soon.
      @Leo: Get bent.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  18. Leo

    I can't believe this non-sense article is making front-page with so much more important in mind.

    THIS ARTICLE DOESN'T EVEN EXPLAIN HOW IT "CHANGED HER LIFE!" for crying out loud!

    June 12, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Todd

      They got fatter – same as most americans.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  19. Henry

    Why does CNN continue to place these "editorials" and "opinion pieces" under their Top News on their mobile webpage... This is not news...

    If you have to put a disclaimer on the article separating CNN from the "opinions expressed in this commentary" then get it off the "news" page..

    June 12, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Leo

      The Washington Post notes Today's Columnists Opinions or Todays' Opinions, but not FRONT PAGE NEWS

      June 12, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  20. paganguy

    What is a "blessing"? How do you get it? How do you use it? What does it do? I know a priest blesses you with holy water. Mahoney also blesses animals with holy water. I understand holy water is plain water blessed by a priest. What a joke.
    My ex-mother-in-law always thanked God for the meal in front of her. I reminded her that I worked my rear end off for the money to buy that meal.
    My favorite "prayer": Good bread, good meat, Good God, let's eat.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:31 am |
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About this blog

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.