Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Grace!"

As children, most of us are taught the following prayer:
God is great, God is good,
Let us thank him for our food.
Amen.
(Some people go on to learn additional stanzas about "being fed" and "daily bread," but frankly, that's just overkill. It's like learning the second verse of the Star Spangled Banner, and who the hell needs that?)

So like most normal kids who are indoctrinated at an early age, I learned to Bless the Food™ by rote. Any time I was called on to say the blessing, I would simply bow my head and recite the prayer I had been taught.

As I got older, the prayer went through several mutations...
Good bread, good meat,
Good God, let's eat.
Or...
Rub-a-dub-dub,
Thanks for the grub.
Yaaaaaaaay, God.
Amen, dig in!
But by the time I became a teenager, praying by rote was no longer acceptable. Or rather, praying a prayer that someone else had written was no longer acceptable. My grandfather had been praying the same prayer for so many years that he had it down to a science, and every time he "asked the blessing," he would speed pray like an auctioneer.
Accept this thanks our Father for this day we ask that you bless this food bless it to the nourishment of our bodies...
About that time, my younger stepbrother J.J. began receiving the prayer duty. I, for one, was happy because it meant I wouldn't have to do it anymore. Also, J.J. hadn't managed to commit the entire prayer to memory, so his blessing would always be along the lines of "God is great. Amen."

One day, after visiting the First Baptist Church in Winnsboro, Texas, we all went back to my grandparents house for lunch. My grandmother had done her traditional pot roast, and we were all pretty hungry. So when the time came to say the blessing, my sister and I both chimed in, "Let J.J. say it!"

Unfortunately, J.J. had apparently received some schooling in proper praying since the last time, and he went to town.
God is great, God is good,
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hand, we are fed.
Thanks for this, our daily bread.
God bless Daddy and Momma and Meme and Daddy Pops and Mamaw and Papaw and Gran and Chris and Sunny and Uncle Mark and Aunt Pam and Rob and Amber and Zane and Heather and Teresa and Jan and Bubba and Lee Wayne and Leroy...
...and so on, for about five minutes. My mom finally interrupted his heartfelt prayer by saying, "Hey! God knows who's in your family, okay? Just say Amen."

Anyway, once non-recited prayers became the norm, I became very uncomfortable and self-conscious any time I was asked to pray in front of people. I'd stumble through something about "thank you for the food and the weather and, you know, all that." I made a couple of ill-fated attempts to emulate my grandfather, but I lacked his mastery and got my tongue all tangled up over "AcceptthisthanksourFather..."

So imagine my joy some years later, when I was in college, and my mom married a Catholic guy. Suddenly, recited prayers were back in vogue! Any time I joined them for dinner, we would recite:
Bless us, oh Lord, for these gifts we're about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Simple. Elegant. To the point. I wasn't a Catholic. Hell, I wasn't even a Christian by that point. But to me, it was an out. It was a handy, socially-acceptable prayer that I could whip out any time someone put me on the spot. Even after mom divorced the guy, I kept the prayer.

So fast forward a few years later. It was Thanksgiving, and my sister and I were having dinner with my dad and grandmother. (This was before they died, otherwise this would be a truly creepy story.) We'd all just sat down, and Dad said, "Hey, Chrisco. Why don't you bless it?"

So we bowed our heads, and I said, "Bless us, oh Lord, for these gifts we're about to receive..."

When I was done, I looked up, and everyone was looking at me strangely. My grandmother asked, "Where did you hear that prayer?"

My sister said, "I think it's a Catholic prayer," in the same tone of voice that someone might say, "I think that's a turd in your coffee."

I shrugged. "It's the only prayer I know all the words to."

My sister was simply outraged. "You're not supposed to just recite something. You're supposed to pray what's in your heart."

"Whatever. Can we eat now?"

"We need to bless the food for real," my sister insisted.

"Fine," I sighed. I bowed my head again and this time prayed, "Dear Lord, we ask that you smite us not, miserable wretches that we are, but rather you spare us for another day in your service..."

That's as far as I got before I started laughing. Dad laughed, too. My grandmother and my sister, not so much. In fact, it was over an hour before my sister would even speak to me again.

But nobody's asked me to bless the food since then.

Amen.

4 comments:

scarletvirago said...

I wish I had stories like this.

Instead, my stories are like:
Mom: do you wanna get baptised?

Me(at 8yrs): What good would that do?

Mom: Yeah. Religion? Not really for you.

Professor said...

That is great! I cannot believe they knew the difference between a Catholic prayer and a Protestant- I didn't and I haven't always been an atheist either. And I think my dad used to say the Catholic one and he's a Methodist! Dang- ya'll are some serious prayers down south!

This is one of the funniest things I've read in awhile!

Farrago said...

Amen to that, buddy!

Since I came out of the closet-without-a-god my family knows not to ask me to say the prayer, and then when someone who wants to does it, I just quietly and respectfully look around at the pretty food. It's rare, though, that the family prays before a meal.

Irb said...

Scarletvirago: I learned at an early age that you shouldn't ask too many questions or examine things too closely.

When I was about 8 or 9, my mom was explaining the whole concept of salvation and accepting Christ as my savior. She said that if you heard about Jesus and believed, then you'd go to Heaven. If you heard and rejected Him, then you'd go to Hell. I asked what would happen if you'd never heard, like if you lived in Africa or Antarctica or something. She told me that was why we had missionaries, to make sure that everybody had a chance to be saved. So I asked about all the people who had died before we'd sent missionaries, and my mom assured me that God would not send somebody to Hell without giving them a chance to make a choice. So then I asked if it would be better not to send missionaries, because if none of them heard, they'd all get into Heaven. But if we told them and some of them didn't believe, then they'd go to Hell. It just seemed cruel to me.

Long story short (as if that ship hadn't already sailed), my mom got annoyed and told me to quit worrying about it and just trust God to handle things. Which did little to alleviate my concerns. Fortunately, holding my head underwater for four minutes eventually brought me around to their way of thinking...

Professor: Having been born with a defective prayer gene, I've always felt a tad out of place here in the reddest of red states. I also lack the requisite fear and hatred of gay people and foreigners, and I have a bad habit of actually pronouncing the Gs at the ends of my verbs...

Farrago: I guess I haven't officially come out of the godless closet yet. With my family, it's more of a "don't ask, don't tell" thing.