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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. haventYouBeenKeepingUpWithScience

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  2. weloveyou

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Name

      lol, cnn should never have added videos... now the trolls are going crazy with this new way to anooy!

      June 12, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  3. dontYouKnowScience

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY8P-V3Iqxk&w=640&h=390]

    June 12, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Name

      shut up troll

      June 12, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. pastor ken

    This article while wrapped in warm fuzzies smacks of universalism, smells like smoke and comes from the pit of Hell.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • the truth

      Its better than the stink of lies coming from you and your religion. I am a UU and proud of it.

      June 12, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • mel

      thats what I was thinking.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  5. dontYouKnowScience

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  6. Gregorio

    Dear Ms. Hetter,

    God most certainly exists! Your daughter knows that something doesn't come from nothing. Who are you thanking with your blessing?

    To all of you atheists and agnostics, do you really have to see something to know it exists? DId you ever see Socrates, Cleopatra, Richard the Lion Hearted? Did Jesus really walk the face of the Earth?

    Finally it is absurd to think that the universe started with a big bang and nothing started it!

    God is.

    To deny His existence is to deny yourself the comfort of knowing that there is existence beyond the short lifespan of man. We have the miracle of consciousness and if we have it, something far greater than us also has it. Know that you are loved.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Something doesn't come from nothing? Then where did your invisible, supernatural man in the sky come from? Did he create himself? Get a brain.

      June 12, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • BobM

      I don't -need- "comfort" from the imaginary. If you think there is an eternally-existing god, then you believe it is possible for something to have just always existed. In that case, why is it so hard for you to grasp that the universe -is- that something? Why do you need to invent a supernatural middleman to "create" it?

      June 12, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  7. heyAtheistDontYouKnow TheDebatesOver

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  8. heyAtheistDontYouKnow TheDebatesOver

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  9. listenUps

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  10. Stupid atheist

    .lol. I just clicked on the article because I knew the atheist would be trolling it. you can't say the word God without an atheist showing up. Lol. too funny. It's almost like they are junkies. I don't actually think it's their fault, they can't help it. I haven't figured this whole God thing out but why would I take advice from someone who came from a stupid monkey? Lol. Hahaha

    June 12, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • youisrightyo

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byN38dyZb-k&w=640&h=390]

      June 12, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • BobM

      It's ape, not monkey. If you're going to deny evolution, at least try and learn the basics. I find it hilarious that people are so full of themselves that they think it's some kind of insult to have evolved from other, "lower" species. Frankly, it's the apes that ought to be insulted by the comparison.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Kace

      To your point, you can't say 'atheist' with a bunch of religious zealots showing up.

      June 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  11. smokinDatPurpYo

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  12. Matt

    When I was younger, my prayers were like that. Now I try to pray about the good and the bad points of each particular day. Since no two days are exactly alike, this keeps me from saying the same things over and over.”

    June 12, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  13. atheist gotDealtWif

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

    June 12, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  14. JayGraham

    What about all of the "non human efforts"? Can a human really provide food or is it provided from someone or something greater than us? I can grow vegetables, hunt animals, raise animals, go fishing, and prepare food but I cannot make any of these things from scratch.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Scientists have already created bacteria in the lab by building them from DNA. Give them time. They'll be able to create any animal or plant you want. It may be a thousand years from now but they will do it eventually. So where did your invisible supernatural man in the sky come from? Did he create himself out of nothing? Who created him. And who created whomever or whatever created him? Etc. etc. Ancient mythology for ignorant people.

      June 12, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • JayGraham

      To Luis Wu – Scientist have NOT CREATED bacteria from DNA. And I didn't say anything about a supernatural man in the sky. Your real Chinese name should be "Sum Dum Fuk"

      June 12, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Scientists HAVE created bacteria from DNA look it up instead of posting your stupid comments based on your ignorant opinion instead of FACTS. I read several scientific periodicals and journals and it's a FACT. But I guess you don't want to confuse the issue with facts. Get a brain.

      June 12, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  15. jim

    @gman Dark matter and dark energy are only hypothesized as a cause of acceleration in the expansion of the universe. Dark matter is not only not measurable but has not even been PROVEN to exist, much like your god. The big difference is that scientists don't pray to dark matter.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  16. Koseki

    Dear God,

    Thank you for all the tornadoes that have killed people this spring. Without your godly wrath these sinners might still be around eating the food that you miracled onto their plates, but you took them to heaven by throwing them there with a tornado. Once again, thank you for doing away with farmers and miracling food onto my plate.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Matt

      @Koseki
      God does not cause Tornadoes, Man's pollution of the Earth has caused global climate changes. Unexpected and unforeseen occurrences do happen. However, God allows such things to happen. Do not confuse the fact that He does care about humans.
      The issue that Satan raised in Eden was, "Does Man have the right to rule himself" Can mankind rule himself better without God's influence? – This universal question has to have time to be answered. Soon, God will undue, remove and reverse all of the bad effects of Satan's experiment. The Bible tells us the God will break up the works of the Devil.

      Peace

      June 12, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Matt – Sorry, it's just ancient mythology. And you've obviously been sucked into that fairytale fantasy world. If you were intelligent, you could look at it objectively and understand that it's just old myths. But you're doomed to live in your fantasy world for the rest of your life. You have my sympathy. If you'd been born in India, you'd be arguing just as strongly for Krishna and Shiva, etc. If you'd been born in China, you'd be arguing for Bhudda, etc. etc. But you were born in the West so you've been brainwashed since birth into believing in Christian mythology. THINK about it. Use what few brain cells you have and use LOGIC and REASON instead of blindly accepting old myths as reality.

      June 12, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  17. Luis Wu

    All religions are nothing more than ancient mythology. Which religion you belong to depends probably like 90-some percent on where in the world you were born. If you're born in the West, you're indoctrinated practically from birth to believe in Christian mythology. If you're born in India, you're indoctrinated to believe in the Hindu mythology. It's all just archaic mythology. Intelligent people understand that and don't get sucked into these fairy tales. All primitive cultures have come up with mythology in order to explain existence, comfort people in the face of their mortality and bring structure and law to society. But this is the 21st century, not the 12th. We don't need archaic mythology to tell us how to live.

    Think about it. If you had never heard of a god or gods and suddenly someone started preaching Christian mythology to you, you'd think they were out of their mind! And they are.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Matt

      Surprise, I am intelligent. I have not "blindly accepted old myths as reality."

      I have used logic, understanding, and reasoning abilities to see the vast evidence that this is no mere mythology. It is based on World History and accurate and reliable Bible prophecy. I have studied the Bible for over 40 years. Have you ever studied the Bible to know what it really teaches? Or, do you always make comments without any investigation?

      June 12, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • BobM

      Actually Matt, if you spent 40 years studying the Bible, and you applied ANY critical thinking to the process, you'd know beyond ANY doubt that it's a badly-written, self-contradictory book of fables.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Magic

      Matt,

      Today's average 10 year-old knows more about the Earth and the universe than did the primitive Middle Eastern men who wrote the Bible. Sure, they observed a few things about human nature so some of the morality tales have validity, but that's all. Prophecies? No... nothing that couldn't have been simply correctly guessed or massaged later into seeming to have come true. Supernatural claims? No evidence for these being true.

      June 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  18. JT

    You might as well pray and give thanks to god for the gasoline in your car every time you start it up.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  19. BobbiJ

    There's nothing wrong with being thankful for the things you have, and it's a nice to keep in mind those whose efforts made your dinner possible. It's especially nice to promote those things as a family. I for one am glad you (unlike nearly all Christians,) are mindful that not everyone shares the same beliefs and aren't shoving yours down the throats of others.

    I heartily disagree with the sentiments of LeShawn and others that think you have to "recognize God." If such a being exists, i guarantee you, he/she/it doesn't care in the least about prayers. People pray because it makes THEM feel good, not (regardless of what they think) because of the effect it's going to have on some disinterested supernatural being. If there's a god out there that really cared about what we did, and if it mattered how we worshiped, then we'd have clear direction and proof about what the correct path to follow was, not tens of thousands of mutually exclusive faiths and denominations none of which can actually prove they are holders of "The Truth." A god that cared wouldn't leave the eternal salvation of beloved creations to chance.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • JayGraham

      It is sad to see people are so blind and so lost. You just cannot explain colors to someone born blind but it doesn't mean that a rainbow isn't real. The answer is out there and you know what it is but when it is before your very eyes would you recognize it? Close your eyes and open your faith and then you may see.

      June 12, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Luis Wu

      JayGraham – Close your eyes and open your brain and then you may see that you've been sucked into a fairytale world. Why are you a Christian? Because you were born in the West and brainwashed from birth to believe it. If you'd been born in India, you'd be trying to make an argument for the Hindu pantheon instead because you'd have been brainwashed from birth to believe in THAT mythology instead of the Christian mythology. It's just old myths. Why can people see that????

      June 12, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  20. Morgan

    This is exactly the sort of thing that my husband and I have incorporated into our lives. It brings us a sense of spiritual satisfaction, devoid of any religious or supernatural leanings.

    June 12, 2011 at 8:23 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.