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. Dios te ama

    Dios te ama


    June 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Fred the Verbose

    While I am glad to have food, I don't go around thanking everyone who helped me get it.
    On the other hand, I totally deplore the lack of food that other people experience.
    And as I did not choose to be born in a country without massive starvation, I can feel no superiority over those who were born in countries where starvation is the norm, unlike many religious people who think they had anything to do with being born to their parents.
    I also feel no need to thank the uncaring universe that gave rise to our species on this planet, as there is no indication that the universe has anything like a consciousness or self-awareness.
    If I thought there was a god, I would curse it for being so obviously uncaring and uninvolved in our lives.
    But there isn't one. Or if there is, it isn't anything remotely resembling the nonsense put forth in all of the human religions and has no concern for us and would not need our attention likewise.
    I have been "given" a cosmic joke as an existence. No thanks should be given for being the butt of a joke.
    But there is no joke. Just existence, so there is no need for anger at what has simply come about in essentially random fashion.
    No need to be angry or foolishly thankful at something that obviously does not exist.
    But I can be glad it isn't worse for me, yet that gladness is very much lessened by the knowledge that there are people who do have it much worse. So my gladness isn't all that big a deal.
    Again, no need to thank something that does not exist and has never done anything for or against us.
    Any of you who say your god loves us "unconditionally" are basing your beliefs on a book filled with the "conditions" of your god, so you might want to re-think that glaring error in your conclusions.
    I like the idea of unconditional love. I have it for everyone myself. And if there is a being somewhere that doesn't care what I do but loves my soul anyway, then why should anyone worry about what they do?
    Maybe that god just loves to snack on souls and loves our tasty souls. Where are our thanks for being tasty soul-food?
    When your god eats your soul, will there be anything left? Will our souls become god-poop?
    The mental gymnastics required for a rational belief in a non-demonstrative god are not worth the trouble.
    No proof that any god exists has ever been produced throughout human history, so I will just be glad for my food and all the other things I enjoy while being not-glad about all the things I do not enjoy.
    No god needed or shown to exist equals no thanks needed to be given. I am grateful, however, to my fellow humans for the good things but not for the bad things – these values are also relative to my surroundings and personal experiences.
    No objective moral values exist. Moral relativism, while deplorable, is the reality of our internal value systems.
    Thank you for reading my time-wasting diatribe.

    June 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  3. Dan

    Hebrews 11:6:

    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

    June 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      My god does not believe in your god

      June 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  4. Dan

    Proverbs 3:6

    In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • John Richardson

      ... or not.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • LinCA

      ... but only if you update the maps in your GPS

      June 13, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  5. Ohmybuddha

    There is no middle ground. This auther is the worst nightmare to both sides.
    She is advocating fairy tales to her kids to regious autocracy. She is advocating secularism to moral less chaos. Most of all, she dorsn't make sense, nor logical, to both sides.
    I advocate the middle ground, be secular and spirituial. No, it doesn't make sense, nor logical. Are we, am I so smart? We, humans, I'm still illogical and ignorant.
    Science is a tool, very good and useful one but not religion or philosophy. You can use it to correct religious views on nature but not to correct faith because the faith is an uncondisional belief.
    I guess this doesn't make sense. Well. Godspeed.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • 1L

      You're an english teacher's worst nightmare.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • John Richardson

      A lot of the people that the churchies on here assume are atheists are actually spiritual and secular. Well, some appear to be.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  6. Sean

    God is Love.......God bless you all..

    June 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. palintwit

    Here in the Palin household we never dive into a platter of mooseburgers without first checking each other's precious bodily fluids.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  8. TERRY from WI

    When you give thanks to anyone, it'd be good to know that you're giving thanks to the right one. If someone picked up your dropped wallet, it'd not make sense if you thanked another person who didn't do it. So, thanking / saying grade before a meal is a nice gesture, but who are you thanking? The target of our thanks is God Almighty, from whom all blessings flow. So, the only one for whom we give thanks, the correct one, is Jesus Christ, the risen savior of all who believe in Him.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • PhillyMark

      Congratulations! You entirely missed the point of this piece. Stop pushing your beliefs on others, until such a point that you can prove that your Jesus really was the son of a god who is real. Absent that, you're just an arrogant loudmouth.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Timmy the Farmer Boy

      Speaking of who actually picked up that wallet.
      Well never mind. You wouldn't get it anyway.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Joe, Louisville, KY

      There is no God so you are talking complete nonsense but what else can I expect from someone who believes in an imaginary omnipotent being?

      June 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, here I thought you were about to make a good point, but then you made the very opposite of a good point. Jesus has never put a single stalk of celery on anyone's plate, at least not since he was alive, if he ever was.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  9. 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

    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


    June 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Dan

      God bless you!

      June 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Evan

      Do you have evidence for this view because was I have heard from so-called "biblical scholars" has failed to prove very convincing?

      June 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Reality

      Said view is contained within the following references:

      1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

      2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
      – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

      30-60 CE Passion Narrative
      40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
      50-60 1 Thessalonians
      50-60 Philippians
      50-60 Galatians
      50-60 1 Corinthians
      50-60 2 Corinthians
      50-60 Romans
      50-60 Philemon
      50-80 Colossians
      50-90 Signs Gospel
      50-95 Book of Hebrews
      50-120 Didache
      50-140 Gospel of Thomas
      50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
      50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
      65-80 Gospel of Mark
      70-100 Epistle of James
      70-120 Egerton Gospel
      70-160 Gospel of Peter
      70-160 Secret Mark
      70-200 Fayyum Fragment
      70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
      73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
      80-100 2 Thessalonians
      80-100 Ephesians
      80-100 Gospel of Matthew
      80-110 1 Peter
      80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
      80-130 Gospel of Luke
      80-130 Acts of the Apostles
      80-140 1 Clement
      80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
      80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
      80-250 Christian Sibyllines
      90-95 Apocalypse of John
      90-120 Gospel of John
      90-120 1 John
      90-120 2 John
      90-120 3 John
      90-120 Epistle of Jude
      93 Flavius Josephus
      100-150 1 Timothy
      100-150 2 Timothy
      100-150 T-itus
      100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
      100-150 Secret Book of James
      100-150 Preaching of Peter
      100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
      100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
      100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
      100-160 2 Peter

      3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
      – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"

      4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."

      5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm

      6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria

      7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html

      8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias

      9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.

      10. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
      (Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)

      by Douglas Groothuis: equip.org/free/DG040-1.htm

      11. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
      Presented on March 18, 1994
      12. The Jesus Database- newer site:
      13. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:
      14. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
      15. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:
      16. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
      17. Diseases in the Bible:
      18. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
      theologians, ethics, etc.
      19. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:
      20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
      21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
      22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
      23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php
      24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf
      25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
      26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf
      27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
      28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
      29. NT and beyond time line:
      30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
      31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
      32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
      33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
      34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
      35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

      June 12, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  10. Wayne

    I'd thank God if we didn't need food and if there were a god.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Dan

      God Bless You Wayne!

      June 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Gesundheit, Dan!

      June 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  11. Angie

    How politically correct you are, geez get over yourself already, GOD is the reason for everything He is the reason you have animals and vegetables and fruits to eat. So glad I live in the south where God is appreciated and still worshiped.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Islam: The Happy Religion

      We are happy that you praise Allah. Thanks for the suport, Angie.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Did this person actually invoke political correctness? Avowing (honestly or not) a belief in this Jehovah nonsense for fear of what the natives will do to you otherwise has been THE most pernicious form of political correctness practiced for centuries!

      June 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • palintwit

      Is it true that southerners use stacks of Sarah Palin's book to prop up their trailers ?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • frank

      I'm glad you live in the South too.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Lisa

      Did GOD teach you to be rude like that?

      June 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Neeneko

      Actually, God was removed from office a long time ago for gross negligence. You new religions really need to check on these things first.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • ttwp

      The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • PhillyMark

      which god? and don't tell me there's only one. My god is not a Christian god. He's a drunk who let World War II happen even though hundreds of millions of people said billions of prayers. In the end, it was human will that made the difference. There were no signs of divinity anywhere.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Dan

      God Bless you Angie! (Psalms 10:4 NIV) In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

      June 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • John Richardson

      "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." Wow. that is so totally incoherent that I can only stand in awe before the utter improbability of whatever pool of thought it sploshed out of.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  12. grist

    Who should we give thanks to when we sit down for a meal? Our ancestors who practices artificial selection to generate the wonderful foods we now have, of course!

    June 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  13. Vancouverite

    Thank you.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  14. Mark

    I am sickened by this. Indoctrination at a young age is how these psychos perpetuate their fairly tales. I feel sorry for those kids. Hopefully, they'll grow up and realize it's all lies and BS.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Vancouverite

      When you are grateful for what you have, you begin to see how good things really are.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  15. There's the Truth of it for You

    Thans to Lori and lyd and 4Mercy for proving that the blessing is actually a religious prayer, and that the author is being duped by the underhanded indoctrination tactics of her local Christians.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  16. virginiawillis

    Really beautiful. I love taking the time to say thanks before a meal. It's so easy to be fast, fast, fast. It's respectful of the food, of the cook, of the farmer, oneself, and others.... thanks for sharing.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  17. Lori

    All thinga are from God. That is why people give a prayer of thanks at the table. We need daily reminders, that God is creator.(Romans 11:36)

    June 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You said: "All thinga are from God. That is why people give a prayer of thanks at the table. We need daily reminders, that God is creator.(Romans 11:36)"

      Yep, ALL things are from god. Not just the pretty warm and fuzzy things. The babies born without brains and other defects, the horrid diseases, the parasites that bore into a child's eye and the disasters that kill and maim and cause suffering.

      God has allowed or caused disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes etc. that have claimed the lives of ~ 613,000 humans in the last decade. These were men, women, children and babies. How could you worship a god that you thought willed, permitted or brought about this death and suffering?

      How could you trust a god that is so uncaring about human life? How could you not call him evil?

      I would prefer to think these disasters were naturally caused. That the parasites and pathogens evolved.


      June 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  18. lyd

    Now imagine what would happen if you incorporated prayer into every artea of your life.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Lisa


      June 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • GellsBells

      I think you missed the point. This is not a prayer. This is a blessing. A way to give thanks and recognition. A prayer is to ask for more, a blessing is to honor.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • 4mercy

      bless·ing [bles-ing]
      1. the act or words of a person who blesses.
      2. a special favor, mercy, or benefit: the blessings of liberty.
      3. a favor or gift bestowed by god, thereby bringing happiness.

      There are "prayers" of all types...not just "for asking" ....prayers of adoration, prayers of thanks, prayers for meditation, prayers for reparation, and on and on.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  19. 4mercy

    CNN- more stories like this,please! ...And maybe someday we'll return to being a wholly God-fearing nation again! God works in mysterious ways....even at CNN.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • lyd

      It all starts with prayer. We need to pray for more God in our lives, not just at the dinner table.

      June 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Guin

      We might be a more Christian nation if the Christians who ran this notion actually followed the teachings of Christ. You can't expect to shun the sick and the poor and hope people won't notice the disconnect between the teachings in the Bible and your actions.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Yodd

      Please keep your imaginary sky being to yourself and out of my home and laws, and I will keep my beliefs out of your homes and out of the laws as well. Mutual respect..it sure would be nice if everyone practiced that as well as their chosen religion.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      I don't have a God that I need to fear, I don't know why you would want one.

      June 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  20. frank

    God provides!
    ...unless you're starving to death–then, not so much...

    June 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Ultra Atheist

      No frank, God provides food and cures you of cancer. Starvation and getting cancer are a result of our free will. Amen.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Todd

      Yes Frank..Good things are the result of god alone..not due to anyone's free will..and every bad thing is not god's doing, but entirely due to man's free will..Geese! /end sarcasm

      June 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
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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.