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Dear God, Thank You For This Food, In Jesus’ Name, Amen

king cake

Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.

There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er.  Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.

As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly cannot only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes.

I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and eight billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought or floods. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat?  I think not.

Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

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What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Food is an obvious thing to be thankful for that is why Christians focus on it. But even if there was a god his part in the process is as distant as the production of a TV remote or personal lubricant. Next time someone piously thanks god for the meal maybe add on a prayer of thanks for KY jelly And see how that goes down

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      Appalachian Agnostic

      This is off topic, but you reminded me of a comedy routine a local radio station played. They had a character called Gilbert Gnarley who supposedly called up the KY Jelly company complaining that the Kentucky Jelly was very bland tasting. He did, however, like the convient tube because it made it easy for him to spread the jelly on crackers.

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    Even as a Christian I hated having to wait to eat for someone to say “the blessing”. I don’t know why I hated it, I just did. Plus, our family had rules about who had to say the blessing or “give thanks”. The senior male was designated to give the blessing, and absent a male it went to the senior female. Occasionally, the senior would ask someone else to do it as an honor. My stepdad HATED speaking “in public” (which pretty much included anything out of normal conversation for him) so he used to complain about having to do it and sometimes would tell my mom to do it LOL. I hated doing it. Even when we were attending church still I never employed it in my own home – we only did it on special holidays like Easter or Christmas or the obvious Thanksgiving. We stopped doing it at all after we stopped going to church. My kids are only exposed to it at the homes of relatives or if their visiting grandparents insist on doing it. Honestly, my kids think it’s weird as they are accustomed to saying, “Thanks mom for making our dinner, we really like X” (or thanking whoever made it).

    And I DID love this scene from “Shenandoah” because, even when I was a Christian, it made 100% sense and expressed reality very well. But my devout grandmother thought this scene was sacrilegious and was disappointed in Jimmy Stewart for this. LOL

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      “The senior male was designated to give the blessing,”

      I am not Southern, but I was visiting family the US South and experienced this. We were at a party with a few dozen attendees, some family and a lot of their friends’ families. My SIL asked me if I would give the blessing. I was well along in my decent into agnosticism and hadn’t prayed even privately for some time. I still haven’t outed myself and, not wanting to cause a scene, I complied (it was a much more generic prayer than I would have prayed years past).

      Afterward, sensing I was uncomfortable, my wife took me aside and thanked me for not making any waves. I commented that I was surprised I was asked to pray, particularly since a family friend, Pastor ….. was in attendance. My wife, much smarter and more observant than I am, pointed out I was the oldest male there, in effect the reigning patriarch at the gathering, a first for me.

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        JW, “congratulations” on your senior status, I suppose? Yep, the senior male is tapped to say the blessing at Southern evangelical gatherings. My stepdad – a shy man – hated that when it was his turn. My uncle isn’t a fan either, but he’s now the current reigning patriarch of my mom’s side of the family. Fortunately, when my daughter graduated from college this past May and I scheduled a celebratory dinner at a restaurant, no one asked about doing a prayer. Our family weren’t big on doing the blessing in public. The only ones who would have suggested doing it would be my brother and sister-in-law (who usually don’t do it at restaurants), but my brother isn’t the senior male. 😃

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          Thanks, OC. The “?” is appropriate. It was a dubious honor, to say the least. After my wife pointed it out, I sort of wanted to ask the gathering “Just how old do you all think I am?” As a slightly introverted type-B personality, I understand your stepdad’s situation.

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    Dear God: Since we pay for all this stuff ourselves, thanks for nothing! P.S. Thanks for telling Michelle Bachman not to run for Senate. In Lucien Greaves’ name we pray, Amen.

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    I have heard many Christian prayers b4 meals that include the phrase “Please nourish this food to our bodies” This always seemed a strange formulation of the language to me. I think it would be said better as “please allow this food (or cause this food) to nourish our bodies”
    This immediately made clear another thought: we were asking god to cause this food to nourish our bodies. WTF? Is it possible that if we did not ask then this the food would not be nutritious? In the entire history of the biological world has food ever been non-nutricous? (unless there were something wrong with the food or the body) I mean isn’t it axiomatic that ingested food will feed the organism without supernatural help? Doesn’t food automatically nourish atheist’s and communist’s bodies?

    Its like asking god: “please allow the electricity within my walls to power my appliances. Amen.”

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce—Did Polly make the cake in the photo?

    About praying before meals: I grew up Catholic. Perhaps an offering of gratitude before a repast isn’t part, or has fallen out, of Church practice: None of the families I knew, including my own, took part in it. Well, my family did it once a year: I am thinking of it now as an act in “Thanksgiving Theatre.” And it was perfunctory: just another step before passing around the side dishes as my father carved the turkey.

    Later, when I became part of a campus Christian fellowship and, still later, an Evangelical church, I had to remind myself to pray before picking up my fork, no matter how many times before I’d offered an oration of gratefulness. As I and my fellowship-mates, co-congregants or whomever I was with gave thanks, I would, to myself, try to “pray the gay (actually, trans and bisexual) away.” I really thought that once I was “cured,” giving thanks before meals and doing all of the other things Christians are supposed to do would come more naturally to me. Didn’t work—but did I need to say that?

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    My wife and I would joke that our youngest, maybe four at the time, wasn’t shy about asking for miracles at mealtime. We’d bring home a meat-lovers pizza and cheesy garlic bread, just dripping grease, cheese and butter. The four year-old would pray “Dear God, thank you for this food and let it be a healthy meal for us”. We’re still alive in spite that yummy yummy, artery-plugging junk food, so maybe God did grant those prayers.

    Another time, we were at Sunday service. The pastor was praying, in true baptist fashion, on and on and on. Our other child, with a gift for narrating the world around them at inappropriate moments, pipes up loudly for the whole congregation to hear “He been praying for a really long time.”

    That Shenandoah prayer gets a chuckle from me. I also enjoy the mealtime prayer in Young Guns (1988). If you haven’t seen it, you can look it up on Youtube. I’m sure Billy the Kid echoes the sentiments of the kids in my extended family when we adults (frequently me) prayed extensively before holiday meals.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Grew up Catholic, and there was a prayer we said at dinnertime when we ate at the table together: “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.” However, as I grew up, my mother was more and more inclined for us to have dinner on TV trays in the living room, and somehow eating that way didn’t require saying “Grace”.

    The families of my friends from Catholic school didn’t pray before meals.

    I was in college before I discovered that some Christians (most Christians?) who pray before meals don’t use a scripted prayer. In my sophomore year, my last in the dorms, I hung out with some Evangelicals and they insisted on doing the hold-hands-pray-very-aloud routine in the dining commons. Seemed strange, but whatever, it wasn’t a problem for me.

    Then I got involved with this guy who grew up Evangelical, although he was on his journey to atheism before he even graduated from high school. He took me home to his family on a holiday, and his mother was the person who prayed at the table, not his father. She’d had years more practice, since he’d spent most of their married life at sea in the Navy, and she’d led the prayer for the children. It was simply a family dynamic. I married the guy (won the in-law lottery), and though we were both atheists for many years before we admitted it to his family, I can bow my head with the best of them at a mealtime prayer. Mom once made the mistake of asking me to lead the prayer, and I gave thanks for the effort of farmers, manufacturers/distributors, grocery employees, and cooks as well as to God. I figured if we were being thankful, let’s remember everyone we needed to appreciate. I wasn’t asked to lead the mealtime prayer again.

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    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    I don’t particularly like prayer in crowded restaurants, which is one reason I don’t usually pray at restaurant meals of my own. I live in East Tennessee, and it has always seemed to me that Christian diners, usually in groups, pray for the specific purpose of being seen by other diners, and the message is: “Hey all you onlookers. We’re Christians!!! We’re doing this to show how holy and good we are, so you will feel bad for the worthless pieces of slime all of you are. Have you all ever heard of the Pennycost?

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    Fun fact. When I was a small child, I was taught to say this prayer before meals in order to indoctrinate me into prayer before eating:

    God is great
    God is good
    Let us thank him
    For our food

    My little brain interpreted it this way:

    Goddess great
    Goddess good
    Lettuce thank him
    For our food

    And then it clicked one day what the words actually were, and eventually I found out that evangelicals think goddesses are bad so…..

    I always balked at pre-meal prayers and only did them when in front of people who forced me to do so.

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      Karuna Gal

      I was uncomfortable if I was asked to do a prayer before religious holiday meals during my Catholic chuldhood. (We didn’t pray before any other type of meals.) And I was always uncomfortable with this type of prayer, period. Interesting to see that other people felt the same way. I wonder why we did. Maybe because they were outside of the church context?

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    We didn’t do this in my family growing up. I encountered it YMCA camps and was suitably creeped out. I didn’t realize until my dad spelled it out for me, what the C in YMCA camps stood for. Oh well. I even encountered it in Girl Scouts (beyond the girls scout promise) and disliked it as well. Fortunately for me nobody had to tell me to just bow my head, shut my eyes and be quiet.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    OBSTACLECHICK jogs my memory to a poem from a long time ago that was my recollection of reciting the lardy’s preyer at the public school. My old poem kinda does what OC does with embracing the syllables without realizing the words anymore… For me, the words were memorized early-on and it was a kind of glory-joy to begin to forget them into bits and sounds utttered almost in a stream of conscious mode.
    As for prayer before meals, I well remember being terrified of being chosen ‘to say grace’ (an interesting phrase to ponder) so much so that I ruined my appetite sometimes. My body knew what my mind refused to make conscious, that I would have to perform words that were not in and of me but imposed, rammed down my throat. I should have had the heart to pray, “Eat shit, you miserable prick, now let’s gobble, amen.” Instead I quivered and sweat my way through.
    “Our father, royal prick of Heaven, shit on us with your reptilian eye..”
    How wonderful it is to be thankful for everything I can manage these days and not to labor under tithes and offerings. And Gerencser. I stand solidly in opposition to the sweet death Dr. Pepper poison and the chocolate bar heroin. I have been watching Dr. Berg videos and squeezing the sugar out of my life, bit by bit. By Krykeey, I’m apt to git a wee mite EEvangelical about him so I’ll shut up and go home now.

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    I almost remember the grace ObstacleChic quotes, we might have recited it at snack time in kindergarden. It seemed very foreign to my experience, along with singing for ourselves rather than listening to records or radio. The fictional Cooper family in the TV show Young Sheldon recites something about being thankful for the food and “the hands that prepared it “. the latter phrase is something some people overlook, especially Evangelical men. My favorite tale about saying grace dates back to something I read years ago: if memory serves the family was out of the USA on a missionary trip. at dinner the Dad would recite “We are thankful………….” if the food was something everyone liked. If the menu was less favored Dad would recite “Make us thankful……………..” On one occasion the “Make us thankful………” phrase was greeted with hearty laughter, and everyone dug in.

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    Not about food/grace before dinner-about thanks where thanks is due: I work in healthcare. An unvaccinated, covid positive pregnant woman was brought by medevac from remote northern BC to the lower mainland’s high risk centre. She was put into a medically induced coma until she was far enough along that the baby could be delivered by c section, to increase the mother’s chance of survival.

    In the news article, the father praised god and called his partner’s and new baby’s outcome a “miracle”.

    Not the doctors. Not the nurses. Not medical science. None of these things were mentioned. Just god.

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      Karuna Gal

      What a benighted and ungrateful person that man is! (And if he’s some sort of Evangelical/God believer, then why is he not married to that woman?) I always profusely thank the doctors, nurses and other medical people when they help me. They do such hard, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous work to keep us healthy. This couple also put themselves into this pickle by not getting Covid vaccinations. And then exposing the medical personnel to Covid. Shame on them both. 😑 And kudos to you, Jennifer, and your workmates for doing great good. 👏 👏 👏

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    Jim Behlet

    I like to pause and try to envision the many people in our modern world whose hands and bodies work to bring the food to my table. Food is one way that shows how we are so interdependent and interconnected with one another and the planet upon which we live. If there is a God, they exist in our interrelationship.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I was taught somewhere that the purpose for praying formally over any food one ate,was to make it actually safe to eat. As far as being grateful there WAS food around, that wasn’t a problem. But if there was long- winded showboating prayer,that was so off- putting and irritating ! I don’t bother with Thanksgiving, or TG as I call it. I don’t honor those Pilgrims with that day. I don’t care if others want to – choose not to. I love the kind of food in that holiday,so I save it for Christmas or New Year. I just found out about the bounty on Indian scalps and other body parts- not just from men,either. Ministers were in on it. Like the Pastor Elder and his promoting this. So creepy ! John Elder. A bounty paid then, was $12,000 in today’s money. They wanted the people cleared out that badly ! I also think of the Yalta Conference, the non- agression pact from WW2,which TG was supposed to be. Having read the Mashpee Wampanoag account, alongside the Colonist version, it punctures the sanitized version taught in schools. This was all kept under wraps until the Internet exposed it all. I think of Yalta, because if I go there to visit, aI could be arrested. And executed. Yalta is my Malibu. An oasis in a coastal desert. After a massacre took place, a day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed often, in New England. I love turkey, and loathe Pilgrims ever since.

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    My mother still prays before every meal to this day. Growing up I remember going out to Ponderosa (Or was it Sizzler?) one Sunday after services. I don’t know why we went but I do recall with whom – the church loudmouth. After we had gone through the line, ordered, been seated and gone through the salad bar line mister mouth announces it is time to ask for a blessing of the food. I wanted to crawl under the table! In a loud voice he preached away for ten minutes making many in the restaurant and the church party uncomfortable. When the meal was finished and we were headed to our cars I quipped that I thought Jesus taught us to pray alone and not make a production of it. I thought my mother was going to thwamp me but she just rolled her eyes and suggested we head home.

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Bruce Gerencser