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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. n00b

    If you're not with God, then you're with Satan.
    There is no middle ground.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:10 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      Which one is it again who demands that you bow to him? I keep getting confused.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Chris

      Good thing I don't believe in either one!

      June 12, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • n00b

      Like I said before, there is no middle ground.
      If you're not with Jesus Christ, then no matter what you beleive or not belive, you're with Satan by default.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • I_get _it

      n00b,

      Do you believe that "Satan" is a Master Deceiver?

      June 12, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • Kris

      your god is an ass hole

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

    I get so many sample stuff for free its awesome. Actually it is not difficult to find them just search online for "123 Samples" It is the best way!

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

    This article is yet another proof of the abysmal hallowness of the godless secularism.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • Greg

      That is an awesome place for a typo.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:24 am |
    • I_get _it

      Greg 🙂

      (English is not her first language, but it's still a funny boo-boo.)

      June 12, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  4. Jeff Lange

    I would not call it a blessing, as that implies an act of glorification of a god. Other than that, it a great idea. I have done something similar with family when we're all together, in that I take time to thank the animals, the plants, the farmers, the truck drivers, and the retailers who made it possible to have the food before us. Keeps it real.

    As for others who say more traditional graces, I have no problem with that, of course. To each their own. I just don't like it when religion seeps into the laws and mores I am expected to live by. But some theists responding here apparently think it's a bigger deal if some atheists are not pleased with the way they push their inanity on others by way of legislating Bronze Age morality. I have a very small violin to play for them.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:03 am |
  5. Ms. Perspective

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

    June 12, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  6. pat_wobbly

    I'm tired of people explaining to me why i need god in my life. Keep it to yourself. Its on tv, movies, on my drive to work, co-workers..and on the internet in 'news'..stop forcing it down my throat.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • Sonya

      AGREE!!!

      June 12, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • JB

      As if you were forced to read the article.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • your an idiot

      i like how this idiot is talking about god being forced on him when the article states that they are using the blessing with the express idea that god is not part of it.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • (different) Greg

      Hey "you're an idiot"... you're an idiot. Sorry, but the article is a farce – a "secular blessing" that "gives thanks to a higher power" is NOT secular. It's a form of deism / theism / god-belief.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • It's spelled "you're"

      The moron author does not recognize the soft-sell approach being peddled on her, that blessings are not religious, really they are not. She also does not recognize the manipulation at work in that "non-religious" pre-school in the church. Talk about clueless. She is being subsumed into the borg blitheringly believing it is all just innocent coincidence.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • I_get _it

      Actually, "Blessings" and "Blessed Be" are common Wiccan (pagan) phrases.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  7. JB

    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,
    For all blessings come from the Lord Almighty
    Thank you for the sacrifice of your Son,
    For without Christ, we have no hope of redemption
    In your Son's most precious and Holy name, Amen.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  8. Chucky McLovin

    Hey, CNN! This is not news! Try doing investigative journalism for a change. And if you feel the need to do a story about religion, maybe you could present the other side for a change, something like: Jesus was an evil cult leader that required his followers to hate their families and hate their own self (Luke 14:26); Jesus didn't want peace on Earth but instead he wanted violence; Jesus wanted a man's family to be his his enemy (Matthew 10:34-36). JESUS = HATE!

    June 12, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • WeLoveYou

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lU0Ven7-L4&w=640&h=390]

      June 12, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • (different) Greg

      Well said. But how much do you want to bet that these facts you've posted are SO unpopular that even your very post (and mine here giving it support) will be deleted? The mob is full of believers, you know. 😉

      June 12, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • ok

      first I doubt that enough people believe Jesus was an evil cult leader for that to be counted as a "side." Second, your "other side" isn't the other side to this article, not wanting to say a blessing before a meal is the other side to this article. if you were being sarcastic then I think you're spot on (sarcasm is pretty hard to get from reading and not hearing). I do completely agree that this isn't journalism and whoever decided to put this up at CNN must be smoking crack.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • JB

      Leave it to Satan himself to twist scripture.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:07 am |
    • ok

      real quick it might seem like JB and I share some viewpoints on this topic. We don't. he's an idiot too for calling this guy satan

      June 12, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • (different) Greg

      "Leave it to Satan himself to twist scripture"?? WOW. Aren't you a little old for imaginary friends? Check under your bed tonight, ok? We wouldn't want the monster who lives under there to get you...
      But seriously, if you actually believe that there's a God, and he had some "scriptures" written down for us to follow, don't you think it would be important enough to this invisible man in the sky so that he/she/it would make certain we didn't foul it up? Instead of allowing greedy corrupt slightly insane people tell us over and over again ever-changing, differing interpretations of what this imaginary god wanted us to know?

      June 12, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • JB

      @ ok – Chucky is taking two very popular verses and attempting to take their meanings out of context. The literal translation in Luke 14:26 is to love family LESS than Christ even though the word is almost always translated (correctly) as hate. Matt 10:34-36 although harsh, is true to it's word. Putting on Christ often turns family members against one another due to the divisions His sword creates. In Christianity, Christ is simply put first in everything. By doing so, those that are not in Him may be divided against us. You don't have to believe in order to understand that this person is obviously trying to promote the living word of God in error.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:29 am |
  9. (different) Greg

    This entire article is self-contradictory. Secular blessing? Jumbo shrimp. Acknowledge something greater and give thanks to it? That's faith in a higher being or power, AKA religion. Stupid, stupid article CNN.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  10. Seriously?

    I think it is hilarious that the comments on this article have become a shouting match between atheists and those who believe in God. The atheists yell at the believers for believing, the believers yell at the atheists for not. When talking about freedom of religion I'm pretty sure Benjamin Franklin said he supported it because "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Every person commenting here telling people they are stupid to believe or stupid not to is themselves a bigot. If somebody came in and read the comments and not the article they would think this woman is devoutly religious and contributing to the downfall of America. I doubt that. But all you people who seem to be either angry or disgusted or flabbergasted at the opposing side, good for you. Because in the end, it doesn't affect me in any way. The only people I agree with are those who think that this article shouldn't be on the front page of CNN. They, and anybody else who posted a comment REGARDING TO THE ACTUAL ARTICLE are the only sane people here, everybody else should find a different forum for this debate. Now time for me to be intolerant. I hope that a god exists and all the intolerant atheists get screwed over (tolerant atheists will be fine). And I hope this god simultaneously screws over all the religious people who are intolerant of others beliefs (once again tolerant believers will be fine). And lastly I'd be screwed over for not being tolerant of all you intolerant people out there. At least that way every other person who held to his/her own beliefs yet didn't scream at others for believing differently could have some peace.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • danica patrick

      I've seen your type before. You preach and call for tolerance, yet when you see a black youth walking down the street at night, you cringe in fear and walk to the other side of the road. Such a racist. You probably hate Obama because he is an empowered black man, and there is nothing you hate more than a strong, willful, and courageous black citizen. Go back to your clan meeting and leave this discussion for non-racists pigs.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • ok

      trying to figure out what race has to do with any of this. i doubt you are danica patrick

      June 12, 2011 at 4:15 am |
    • Joseph

      i'm guessing that you are a black. it was easy to tell cause you sound mentally retarded. you probably have a dead end job cause u ain't smart enough for anything else. go crawl in a hole and curl up. or pick my cotton

      June 12, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • danica patrick

      Okay, just actually read your argument, I originally skimmed it because i was watching the Jeffersons season two. You talk about tolerance, yet hope that intolerant people are punished? Isn't that a little ironic? P.S. You probably hate Tyler Perry, I just want to say he is an accomplished black man in a white mans industry. bigot

      June 12, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • Rodney King

      Hey, just wanted to throw my opinion in too, and yes the original poster is a racist

      June 12, 2011 at 4:22 am |
    • Rosa Parks

      I second Rodney, he is right on that man is a racist bigot who probably thinks white men can play in the NBA? Ya rite

      June 12, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  11. joann

    What,a lovely idea.I, say a Blessing or Grace,as I,like to call it on everything.I,was once taught in Sunday School.The word GRACE means God's Riches at Christ's Expanse. JoAnn

    June 12, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  12. Friend

    Secularists are the types who look harmless in a peacetime but betray most vic-iously the most defenseless people in a cri-sis, yet they claim to be good or say, "we just could not help it." We know it by seeing how they regard unborn humans and how they promote every kind of perversion and decadence in the society. America has been hijacked by villains.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • (different) Greg

      You're an idiot. I suppose you're going to overlook every person tortured and killed in the name of various gods? The crusades? Cortez plundering South America? The Spanish Inquisition? Nazi Germany? How about McCarthyism right here in the good ol' USA? All groups, ALL OF THEM have blood on their hands. The only difference is, at least non-believers (agnostics, secularists, humanists, atheists etc) take personal responsibility for the good AND bad that they do, creating an opportunity to at least learn from the experience.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • Friend

      Greg, what planet are you from? You Weterners were brainless barbarians without Christianity. Religion corrected you each time you drawned yourself in committing atrocities. Atheists did the most evil in human history. None was so murderous and vicious in all human groups combined but you had nothing to stop you. Christians took the insane atheism down everywhere. Learn the history correctly.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • (different) Greg

      LOL, so I'm a "brainless barbarian", huh? For the record, I'm not going to argue with you, you're a waste of effort and I know it. You're gone man – out there, never to return. The guy who said "You know you're not supposed to eat the foil hat, right" had you pegged. I invite anyone reading this to read the rest of your posts. You're a hate monger worse than any accusation you've made against people who do not share your narrow faith. You're a hypocrite, plain and simple.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • (different) Greg

      Oh, and PS ... take your own advice there, Mr. Sheep.... LEARN YOUR HISTORY CORRECTLY. So far you get and "F", as in FAIL. You're batting zero. Keep digging! That hole's getting nice and deep....

      June 12, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  13. WeLoveYou

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkBD20edOco&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  14. Atheist GotDealtWif

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

    June 12, 2011 at 3:46 am |
  15. lance

    as long as you realize it's just psycho-drama.

    I say be consistent with whatever you believe.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  16. Friend

    Atheists and secularists also bully literally like a hell. Bullying the religious people and making blasphemies are their core nature and a theme of their living!! Observed facts.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • timmycneedsGod

      You are 100% correct.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • (different) Greg

      You are 100% wrong, not to mention a liar and a fool.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:00 am |
  17. Thanin

    God,Jesus and virgin Mary really exist heaven,the most beautiful supernatural and the designed universe of God only forever.God is very good and very good judgement. God love your faith is doing good. But a lot of people have unknown and don't be faith for God,when they are doing sinful increasing until die and souls from dead body to return to land. souls have witness and are so fear God's good judgement.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:38 am |
  18. Friend

    Ms. Hetter, please work to shut up your fellow secularists. Secularists are the most filthy, foul-mouthed, disrespectful people on earth, a disgrace and unprecedented offense to 6 billion humans on earth. Your fellow secularists' evil blasphemises make the most kind religious person into an extremist. Know your kind, please.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • (different) Greg

      You're a real piece of work, you know that? YOU are the one spreading division and hate right here on this board. Thank you for being such an excellent example of a religious zealot / hypocrite.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:02 am |
  19. Dee

    I thought the article was also sweet. It was done in a tastful manner. You none believers in a higher power be it God, hot air, the big bang or little green men need to take your hate out on the road. I am really getting tired of your soap box. So you don't believe in God or anything else..blah blah blah...So, I choose to believe in a higher power, and I sure believe in science because in away it is a higher power to. But really folks a personal blessing is harmless and if you got to bless yourself in provideing good food on the table then do so. But I will always feel that the higher power of all things should be given thanks for the good we have. Sorry if that steps on your toes, but as you said freedom to believe or not to, what a great country I live in and I give blessings for that too.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Lily

      Dee, what is a blessing? How does it physically affect you? Be realistic and tell me real results of blessing and not just assumptions. Besides, you are the one who woke up early, drove 18 miles to get to work, work your @ss off or your brains to be paid at the end of the month to earn your salary to buy the meat and bread and cook a nice dinner to your family, so where is your god in all of this???

      June 12, 2011 at 4:17 am |
  20. Timmy C

    Dress it any way you like, it's still religious nonsense.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • timmycneedsGod

      Grow up Timmy.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • (different) Greg

      "grow up Timmy" ... said the child...

      June 12, 2011 at 4:02 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.