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. frank

    Dear Nothing, thank you for this food I have that I paid for with my own labor and am able to eat because of pure chance, while millions of innocent babies starve to death in agony also by pure chance, amens!

    June 12, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • SillyRabbit

      Sad. Yes, you are the epitome of the self-centered disappointment she is trying to steer clear of by helping her child grow into an adult who realizes it's not always about the money you make and what you pay for. Some people are blessed (or lucky). Even if you aren't praying to God, Budda, a tree, you can still pause for a moment and appreciate what you have and reflect on what you can do in your life to help those less fortunate. Are you doing anything?

      June 12, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  2. Good

    Anyone can and should say a blessing. in an eve growing ego-centric word, recognizing the World around us as our source of nourishment is a good thing and it helps us remain humble.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  3. yerMomListensToKoolKeith


    June 12, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  4. wordUpPurpsm0ke


    June 12, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  5. believe


    June 12, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • It`s stupid to believe.


      June 12, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  6. Patrick

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

    -Bart Simpson

    June 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  7. MrNietzsche9

    She may not necessarily be religious. Many people can be a religious non-believer. She also does not need to be a christian. She might was well be a Pagan. Furthermore, I would like to point out that prayers from Christianity are based off of that from Pagans of the ancient cultures of Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, and else where where the Mysteries were.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  8. Matt

    Wrong again. True Religion requires you to think- there is a difference.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • LinCA

      then why is there still religion?

      June 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  9. Kace

    @Truth: being thankful is different from a blessing ... I too am atheist and am thankful for what we have. But a blessing by definition is a prayer. And for preschool teachers to claim it is a secular activity is disingenuous.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Cedar rapids


      June 12, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  10. Ginger315

    Awwww so glad mom feels good about herself. The prayer is a version of Oprah Winfrey's all paths lead to god......who is to bestow this "blessing"?

    June 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  11. Kace

    "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"

    I got news for ya, if your child's preschool is having a blessing before snack, it's religious.

    June 12, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • the truth

      I am an atheist and I still give thanks for the food we eat. No god, no religion, just thanks.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • T3chsupport

      Also it's in a church.
      And in Georgia.
      Definitely religious!

      June 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Kace

      (sorry i posted this in the wrong place, above)
      @Truth: being thankful is different from a blessing ... I too am atheist and am thankful for what we have. But a blessing by definition is a prayer. And for preschool teachers to claim it is a secular activity is disingenuous.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • CJ

      Chill out.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • teacher

      I have worked in a public pre-school (paid for by the same money that funds k-12) and those children sang a blessing. They simply sang thank you about 5 times and then they were allowed to eat. If nothing else it was teaching them that they should say thank you to the person providing them their food. They never thanked a specific person, being, or deity; just simply said, Thank you.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Kace

      @CJ: I'd chill out if I could, but I think it's a huge issue when religious people foist their beliefs on impressionable little kids. I believe that each person has the right to be in control of his or her own thoughts, and my primary problem with religion is the mind control inherent in its practices.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  12. PraiseTheLard

    Gee... Most of American Pop Culture is designed to pander to and exploit the eight-year-olds who appear to control the "taste" of the nation... Now we have people taking their life cues from a three-year-old...

    I guess it's true that stupidity has no limits...

    June 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • the truth

      Yeah because idiots such as yourself have done such a splendid job with the economy, foreign relations and creating a cohesive American family (irony).

      June 12, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      And exactly who is it that you’re calling an idiot? Last I checked it was “god-fearing” folks like that former governor of Texas and his fellow religion addicts who led the Axis of Greed and Corruption that resulted in the current economic mess, not to mention the fabulous foreign relations missions “accomplished”… As for “cohesive American families”… I know many outstanding examples who have managed to resist the national disease called organized religion…

      June 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  13. frank

    Truly insipid.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • the truth

      What is insipid?

      June 12, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Electric Larry

      "Insipid" is this thing called a word, and if you look it up in this thing called a dictionary, you will find out what it means. Then you can dust off your brain and do some thinking stuff – I know, it's been a long time since you tried, but you can do it – and you see how it fits the situation.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  14. the truth

    The nutbags are out in full force now.Apparently "god" didn't bless these video posters with much "intelligent design". in regards to their brain.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  15. RV1982

    To me, evoking a "blessing" is admitting to oneself and others that you BELIEVE there is something other than the physical world affecting your life and thus the food on the table is not a consequence of just your actions or from "luck". Such an admission to me has a spiritual basis and is therefore not secular by definition. If you are faithful to your BELIEF and pray and are thankful to [you fill in the blank], you are by definition religous wether you want to admit it or not.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  16. Matt

    Do you have a brain? Apparently, you do not use it to think.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • BobM

      Luis appears to use his a lot more than you use yours. Religion -requires- you not to think, but to accept what you're told, without question. Mr. Wu (nice Niven reference, btw LW,) has used his to question the concept of blind acceptance of dogma without critical thinking.

      June 12, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  17. Mary

    This is foolishness. You don't want to take a stand for any god, but yet you want to participate in some sort of hollow mimicry directed toward no one to add some sense of balance to your life.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  18. Peikovian

    God loved you enough to have a child with your wife.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  19. sm0kinDatPurp


    June 12, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  20. Dante Orlando Brown

    I believe in Jesus.


    June 12, 2011 at 9:21 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.