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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

    The Western secularism is an oppression. USA needs to be liberated from secularism.

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

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms2ajqlNHeI&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  3. Kris

    What a waste of energy. The hell with this; I'm going to Finland.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  4. Jack

    Great article.

    Katia, Judaism has always viewed blessings as a way to stop and focus and appreciating. Here is a wonderful article that explains deeper.
    http://www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48951311.html

    June 12, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  5. Friend

    Humans are selfish and evil; humans need to be constantly offended by the Truth. Secularists and atheists are naive on the human nature and also ignorantly and meaninglessly mean to the sincere, religious people. Atheists and secularists offend other humans with their own filth and stupidity and cruelty.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Andrew

      You know you're not supposed to eat the tin foil hat, right?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Jesus Gives Up on Religion and Becomes a Strip Club Barker

      Friend/Adelina/Justina/FairGarden/Frederica drank the bathwater and asked for 23 more helpings.

      She's off her rocker. She's a taco short of a combination plate. Her elevator does not go to the top. There is a bubble in her think tank.

      "Mad" means both angry and crazy, and she is definitely the fusion of those two elements.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  6. Friend

    Now the self-centredness is truly in a point of insanity in the secular America. You need a lot of mental hospitals. This is also the reason USA can no longer win any single war. Pitiful, pitiful mentality of denial of Truth(God). Hindus in India are better than secular Americans.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • Andrew

      You make claims of god's truth, can you justify them or are you speaking out your @ss?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  7. c

    If you have the ability to have a dinner you need not prayer. What you should be doing is volunteering and giving back to the community around you. They are the ones who should be utilizing prayer.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  8. Friend

    Secular Americans are so weird. Why do you care about what other humans think when you care nothing about how God your Creator thinks? At the end you are an offense to every human being and to each other for no good reason. Offend humans with the Truth like Christians do. Truth no longer matters but only people's feelings in the secular West. Such feminized civilizations are destined to defeat and humiliation.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • I_get _it

      If I capitalize the 'n' in Nonsense, does that make it more effective for you?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • Andrew

      Because we don't necessarily believe in a 'god' or a 'creator', but we do believe in other human beings. Personally I don't respect religious beliefs, as I feel they are unjustified, but I respect people's decision to believe various religions, and am not going to try to impose my beliefs on others. (I won't shy away from an argument, but that, and imposing my will are two different things)

      We acknowledge that we are not necessarily the sole possessors of truth, and apparently significantly more humble than you are. I don't believe in a god, but I admit I cannot prove one does not exist, I am not able to make claims of epistemological truths. You are arrogant enough to believe you can. That is why you don't care about the feelings of others.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • Jesus

      What drugs are you on?

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

      god is not my creator, that would be my parents. secular people are weird? We don't believe what we read in a book written as fables.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • Magic

      Wonderful post, Andrew.

      Unfortunately, you won't get through to @Friend, aka Adelina/Justina/Frederica, but perhaps others will understand and will appreciate your thoughts.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  9. Irs'd

    Nice article. I totally agree with it.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  10. cheese

    Some of you here are just pathetic. Ever hear a saying called "whatever floats your boat"?

    I feel happy for the writer of this article because she's sharing about the simple joys in her life. Some of you miserable freaks are just whining about how this article is by "stupid ignorant religious people" who "embarrass" this country.

    Well, here's a revelation. This country was founded on the basis of freedom of/from religion. This country is not a platform for the more whiny atheists among you to impose your fascist and intolerant views on others.

    Too bad that some of you are not among the lofty heights of intelligentsia. But you'd rather be intolerant and narrow minded. I wonder, how has the writer offended you?

    June 12, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Wayne S

      Actually the first amendment is freedom of speech and that means I can say whatever the hell I want. Even if that means I think religion is retarded.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Andrew

      Intolerant? Fascist? Look at the most well known atheists out there right now, people like PZ Myers, Sean Harris, Richard Dawkins, they're among the most liberal people out there who argue vehemently for freedom of religion. They've never stated anything akin to limiting the rights of religious individuals, and in fact have stated exactly the opposite. They wish to convince people that faith is absurd through logic and reason, it's their entire sales pitch, and directly attack the idea of coerced belief. If you can't convince someone their beliefs are wrong by reason, you're certainly not going to do it by twisting their arms. So what makes us so intolerant, simply by arguing 'you are wrong'? By contesting unjustified claims? That's not intolerant, that's simply having some intellectual integrity. We may insult, but what can I say, we're only human.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  11. Bob

    Another stupid religious article. You religious types make me sick, constantly preaching your bull to everyone. The only thing religion has done is to breed fear, contempt, hate and start wars. Religion is degrading our current society more than it allegedly helps it. I've always considered those who prescribe to religion to be those who are too ignorant to think for themselves; just mere sheep among great scientific minds who do more for the world than any religion has ever done. Get a clue people. When will you wake up and stop being led around by con artists?

    June 12, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • wrizOng!

      wrong 🙂
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLR87QYlf_s&w=640&h=390]

      June 12, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • G

      EXACTLY!!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • john

      you sound disturbingly angry dude.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • david55

      im an atheist, and i think youre way off base. This wasnt a very religious article, and in fact seemed more a call to recognize that things are greater than ourselves, something most atheists also agree on. there is nothing particularly religious in thanking the earth and the animals for that which they have provided us.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Andrew

      It's not a religious article, it would be very in line with what Einstein espoused. You may consider 'something greater than ourselves' to be a bit too religious sounding, and I might agree because I'm not a fan of feeling like we need religious language, but that puts me more in the Dirac camp than the Einstein camp. That doesn't make the article religious in origin though, and this vitriolic response is a bit too knee jerk.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • To Bob

      I know you and am sad to see that you are still angry in life and rejecting Christ. The conflict inside that produces this anger is only because you are working so hard to reject Him. Humor yourself, and just once speak to this Christ one-on-one. Ok...that feeling you feel right now is pride...challenge it, Bob! Are you really battling for the truth or for pride? Worst case scenario – nothing happens and nobody sees you speaking alone, right?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  12. Friend

    Seriously, Americans should stop worshipping self or the air. Please lose your land as soon as possible if you won't acknowledge God. You don't deserve anything in this world. Worse than pagans.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Todd

      Hey God, we paid for this food ourselves, so, thanks for nothing.

      Bart Simpson

      June 12, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • Todd

      Listen, "Friend", science will fly man to the stars. Religion flies man into buildings.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • john

      hey todd, are you aware that most of our starmen professed belief in God after seeing the planet from space? how arrogant of a race we have become huh?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Sean

      @Todd
      LOL

      June 12, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Sean

      @Todd
      On the Bart quote, I mean.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  13. Phil

    Lead photo of couple at table printed backwards. Knives and forks on wrong side of plates.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • I_get _it

      Phil,

      They are correct in my picture - knife on right, fork on left.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • Myrtle

      @pHIl: you suck phil. please kill yourself immediately.... oh and this article sucks shiht

      June 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  14. Wendell

    Why not thank God himself who created all good things?
    The big bang theory is a man made hoax after all.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • Todd

      supported by astronomy, geology, geography, carbon decay, paleontology. And your sky genie is NOT man made fiction? Prove it.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • G

      UH, actually, the god thing is a man made hoax.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Bob

      The only hoax here is religion itself. It was created by men, fallible creatures allegedly created in the image of an infallible being. What does that say about your 'god'?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Chucky McLovin

      God is imaginary. And the big bang theory is a "hoax"?! More like you're a dolt and you have the scientific comprehension of a 2nd grade child. How is this news anyways? This is why the media sucks; the media seems more concerned with feeding into people's religious delusions than actually doing investigative journalism.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • john

      the planet earth, a speck in the universe hosting species known as man. who revel in their supposed knowledge of how life formed, how the universe formed, and higher power is fraud. then change their minds every 10 years. lightspeed is now slowing down, the universe is showing it is not expanding, and they believe life came from nothing. ignorant. at least admit you dont really know.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  15. mcdworkr

    Well God bless freelance writers. Its all good and everyone is fed. Jezzes...

    June 12, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  16. Wayne S

    This is insane... this is why we have gun toting conservatives in America they believe in everything accept progress! Get real people, science out weighs your "Gods." you bless your own food but wouldn't dare go bless some homeless person with a plate too. All you care about is your own blessings. This truly is a disgusting and detrotomental article you should be ashamed for making it top news CNN.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • john

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYzPZis9X_o&w=640&h=390]

      June 12, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Bob

      I'm a gun toting american and I believe in science. Yay science!

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

      You know these youtube videos from a creation 'scientist' are not exactly the best source. You might as well be posting Kent Hovind and pretending he's a real doctor from a real university.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  17. theDebateBeOverWordUpYo

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

    June 12, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  18. Bnejamin

    The constant claim that internal emotions prove the existence of something external... it's ontologically unforgivable. The word "greater" doesn't even mean anything in this context, as there's no scale by whcih to measure. There is just ourselves and others, not greaters and lessers.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  19. A non-American

    This is why the rest of the Western world laughs at Americans.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • Todd

      Really? I thought it was because we were so fat.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:08 am |
    • Lily

      That as well!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  20. Jesusin

    This statement "Last fall, my child's pre-school teacher introduced a blessing in her classroom" should be considered child molestation. I hope it will, when humans evolve a bit more. I will sue any teacher doing this in a public school to my daughter.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • Joe

      While I agree that prayer has no place in a public school you may have missed this little bit of info:

      "which is housed in an Atlanta, Georgia church "

      I would say that it's a pretty safe bet this is not a public school, so if you did happen to send your child to a school that's in a church don't be surprised when they say a prayer.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:29 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.