Praying at table doesn’t have to be part of our Olympic or heroic pattern. We can grunt a prayer, as anyone who has ever been in a foxhole knows. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with eloquence either. I used to try for it on Facebook and a few of my best correspondents, like Mary Luti and Maren Tirabassi still do. If prayer at table is good, and a grunt towards God is acceptable, then imagine how much more beautiful eloquence could be, for you and for those who get to hear the prayersFrom grunt to grace is not far, as the crow flies. A lot depends on getting your stale story about yourself out of the way. If a grunt removes heroic self-consciousness, great. Grace has come to your table. If writing an eloquent prayer becomes a tongue twister and you find yourself competing with yourself or others in the wordsmithing Olympics, grace at table has already passed you by. Why bother? A beautiful prayer popped up at a table in New Hampshire on Friday night. We were with our friends Michael Ferber and Susan Arnold. Susie had fixed a goat meat tagine; Michael had made a cold blueberry soup. We were watching the Olympics out of our side ears and eyes. The bugs weren’t biting. The golden retriever, “Lola”, whom we have both called our own over the years, was quietly attending the cocktail hour with a tennis ball. There was enough eloquence of food and air, friendship and ambiance. to allow prayer to emerge, rather than be grunted. I prayed a quickie, straight from my heart. “Thank you, God.” Then Warren lit the Shabbat candles. Then Michael remembered this prayer: "Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not in the uneven motions that sway the world but go steadily on our way, neither censuring the journey for the weather we meet nor turning aside from aught that befalls us." We know it comes from the Unitarians but we are not sure which ones. Sourcing of eloquence is always appreciated. The goat came from down the road in Stratford, New Hampshire. The blueberries came from when Susie and Lola had “gone pickin.”
Call me simple-minded. Call me a closet Christian...who is coming out, with vengeance towards none. Call me a person who has personally experienced the power of prayer, like when I had a mastectomy 11 years ago or got hit by a deer one year ago. Or listened one time to many to Bill O'Reilly and needed to calm down, before having a premature cardiac episode. Call me a foodie. Call me a multiplication table, and I don't mean the math kind. I mean the kind that adds and forgets how to subtract, multiplies instead of dividing. Call me a persistent believer in spiritual solutions to material problems, particularly the one called hate-that-leads-to-hunger. Compartmentalizing my solution to all things won't hurt me. Like a name, that is called and is supposed to hurt, coming up with a simple, doable, small solution to the trouble that wears the name of everything, can't hurt me. Like a stick and a stone, pointed at my heart, names only tell me that my assailant has the despair I used to, before I committed the sin of salvation, went simple, and discovered that prayer at table can change everything. Salvation, by the way, is only a sin to the hoarders. They have everything to fear in the 99% coming into their own safety and everything to lose. We have only to multiply our force and our forces when we give thanks. Every day I hear some version of this excuse for full living. "I wouda, if I coulda, but I can't, so I didn't." Global warming has heard this excuse more than once, as has famine, as has homophobia, as has Islamophobia, racism, sexism and the persistent problem of people who forget to have fun with each other at table. In the place where gratitude and grace belong, fear and hatred have moved in. In the place where style might marry substance, long laughter lead to thicker community, good food make farmers proud, in the place of eucharist, with a capital and small letter e, in the place of great thanks, those of us who are well tabled have forgotten how to say it.
Thus my solution: give thanks at table, even if it is only a nod to the nurture. Give thanks at table, even if it is only one conscious breath coming in to go out, sustaining to seed. Give thanks at table, as though everything depended on it. You will live your way to seeing a simple truth: Everything does depend on it.