Children and mealtime grace

For some time, I have been planning to write something about the way our family has grace before meals.

Then we got an email from Kathleen Karhnak, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, about the Phila YM Children's Religious Education Program's newsletter. She has an article in the latest issue.

Kathleen's article is wonderful. It's called Foundations for Children in Quaker Worship (pdf). Here's an excerpt:
Something that’s helped me is paying attention to fostering my child’s noticing those feelings of joy and connectedness, sometimes following his cues instead of expecting him to follow mine. For example, my 2 year old son was beginning to resent family mealtime worship. Why should we just sit here in silence when there’s food RIGHT THERE waiting to be eaten? We now have, in addition to quiet thank-filled worship, a sung grace followed by clapping and exclaiming, “Yay, God!” The clapping was introduced by Tim and we joined in. It’s now a permanent part of grace. My son seems to have that feeling of joy, love, and connectedness during grace now that I remember from my childhood and which is also part of my adult experience of worship. And it’s okay, too, if he samples some of the food while giving thanks for it!
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In our family the four of us take turns, from youngest to oldest, choosing one of several options: Silence, speak a prayer, or sing a prayer. The songs are usually a chorus of "All Creatures Great and Small," "The George Fox Song," "The Appleseed Song (Johnny Appleseed's prayer)," or maybe "Simple Gifts." We end by squeezing hands and saying "amen" -- unless it's the four year old's turn. He is adamant that we not say "amen" when it's his turn!

We frequently forget to have grace until we've already started. Sometimes almost finished!

Our eight year old usually calls for silence. Lately he has been closing his eyes and bowing his head. He sometimes lets it go on for a while. For a long time, when someone chose silence, our four year old would smack his lips or whine that he didn't want silence. If he was leading grace that night, the eight year old would doggedly persist until we got at least four or five seconds of silence.

One evening, when we were particularly tense or tired or both, I called out, "Laughing." So we did. It was wonderfully cleansing and joyful -- and funny! For most of a year afterwards, Four Year Old asked for laughing pretty much every turn he had. It was less and less funny for the rest of us, but he was having fun, so we forced out some guffaws for his sake.

Another time there was lobbying from various small parties about what I should choose, so I called for each of us to pick something. After that, Four Year Old wanted to pick "everyone choose" each time.

He's making progress. At the end of November, we were almost done with dinner when the 4 y.o. said, "We forgot grace!" So we had end-of-meal grace.

Then on his next turn a few days later, he actually chose silence. The silence didn't last long before he squeezed our hands to signal the end -- and we didn't say "amen," of course -- but it's what he chose. Yay!
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  • Do you have a practice of mealtime grace?
  • What gives you joy that makes you say, "Yay, God"?
  • Do your spiritual practices help you center and appreciate the gifts of life? Do you ever feel as if your usual practices are just keeping you from the spiritual food that God has put RIGHT THERE on the table?


Lorcan said...

I generally eat alone... on the few occations I eat with my rather strange, estranged, ex-Quaker family, I sometimes attempt the moment of silent hand holding... Mum, has the new equivelent of the old, youngest squeezes hands to end things quick, she rather sullenly speaks a Protestant grace... ah well...

THine in the light

PS Happy Christmas...

Lorcan said...

OH... pps
I often sit a moment in silence befoer I eat when alone.

Liz Opp said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Chris. There are a few fFriends with whom I'll share grace before digging in; it's not something I do on my own--there is no Life in it for me at this time.

But the most powerful silent grace I experienced was about two years ago, when I stayed over one night with an acquaintance-fFriend in Kentucky. Barry is someone I get to see about once every other year, and I don't know him well, but I feel a spiritual connection, so I sought him out for some hospitality when I was passing through.

When he and I sat down for a meal, we didn't hold hands, but we closed our eyes.

I waited.

I peeked.

I waited some more.

I peeked again.

And then I understood: This Friend was inviting me to enter a worshipful, intimate grace with him.

Which I eventually did.

I loved each moment of it and felt full of Love and the Spirit when grace was over.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Anonymous said...

Chris thanks for sharing, these are great practices to do with children - and something we'll heed once we have our own! And we've had the opportunity to join in on your families practice twice now, and it was a blessing. Thanks again and happy new year!

sageseeker said...

Hi, Where can I find the songs (words and melodies)that you've been using? I think that it is nice to have a repertoire of possibilities for any spiritual occasion. I think that it is easy for a particular "way" to lose Life if it is the only way--kind of like taking a loved one for granted--and we all know what happens then! Sagesister

Anonymous said...

We follow an "as led" rule. We have only one child left at home--a teenager. When we do all sit down to eat at the same time (I'd estimate about half the week) we have silence "as led." Every Tuesday we have Friends and friends over for dinner. It's usually a big crowd and generally half present are not Quaker. We let either Alex who is 5 say grace or my father-in-law who is 85 do it.

I really prefer silence but I think it is only meaningful for me because we don't do it every time. There's something special about my wife saying "Let's have silence" before a meal and the silence is short but often does make me feel really connected. I also try to remember to have a little silence when I am eating alone but I usually forget.


QuakerDave said...

Just found your blog, and enjoy it very much.

What makes me say "Yay, God"?

1. Walking out onto a beach.

2. Looking at my sons in amazement that I had something to do with them being here.

3. Listening to someone like John Coltrane make music, because that's when I hear angels.

Hope you don't mind if if steal your question for a post of my own.

Chris M. said...

Thanks, Lorcan, Liz, and Wess for your comments!

Richard, I hope that if we ever feel the life and spirit have gone out of our practice, we'll find something else to do... Meanwhile, it's a good way to teach a daily spiritual practice.

QuakerDave, I'd be honored. (Hey, where in NJ do you live? I'm from Somerset County meself... When I voted in my first election, Christine Todd Whitman was running for County Freeholder!)

SageSeeker: Thanks for asking. Here are some thoughts:
- "George Fox's Song," "Simple Gifts" and "Johnny Appleseed's Grace" are in Songs of the Spirit, the 1978 hymnal from Friends General Conference. Probably the new one, too (Worship in Song), which is available at www.quakerbooks.org.
- "All Creatures Great and Small" is in lots of songbooks.
- "For the Beauty of the Earth" is another short song that I'd be happy to use at grace but haven't yet.

Some of these are probably available online, too.

-- Chris M.