*This is the second post in a series on Wednesdays exploring components of a mealtime spirituality.
One of the most treasured traditions that I took from growing up in a Christian family is the mealtime prayer. Even now when I go back home for holidays, I know that we’ll gather in a circle before the meal, grasp hands, and ask who’s turn it is to give thanks. My 6-year-old nephew summed it up pretty well last time when he prayed, “Dear God, thank you for everything. Amen.”
These are holy moments. The noise fades. Bodies are connected through hands. Breaths become deeper. Gratitude pours out.
Working on an urban farm with teenagers this summer has brought me many challenges, joys, and surprises. One of those surprises came at a meal one afternoon. I gave the 2nd year workers the task of preparing a feast for the crew. They were to prepare a meal with 50% of the food coming from the farm and then set the table in a creative and inspiring way. They made a plan, harvested and bought what they needed. They went about their work secretly in the small kitchen at our farm. Amazing smells wafted out of the house all afternoon as the rest of us worked in the field. Anticipation was building until we finally got the call: the food was ready.
I still have light bulb moments – wait, I need something better than an electrical metaphor for growing food. When I eat a meal straight out of the garden, new ideas flower. Possibilities are pollinated. Seeds of joy burst open and gratitude sends its roots down into my soul. This has happened each growing season. My hope was that something similar would happen for this crew of teens.
We approached the picnic tables with wide eyes and hungry bellies. One word pretty much summed it up: fajitas! Yes, we would build our own fajitas with all kinds of delicious toppings from the farm: lettuce, arugula, chives, cilantro, sorrel. We had potato salad with our own potatoes plus various raw and sautéed veggies that we grew ourselves! It was a sight to behold.
I grew up reading the story about Jesus hanging out with thousands of hungry people. He did one of those Jesus things with the food. There wasn’t enough, and then there was somehow more than enough. Everyone ate and was satisfied. There were 12 baskets left over! The symbols and metaphors run deep in this story with lessons on economics and sharing. These unveil a world where everyone has enough. I’m still learning how to live out these teachings. Yet, the one thing that seemed basic to my family, the thing that we imitated in our house was the way Jesus took the food and blessed it. He paused. He said grace. He prayed over it.
Had we just gobbled down the fresh meal, I would have been happy and proud and satisfied. But before we began our fajita construction project, someone spoke up. “Hey, we need to say a prayer!” Others chimed in, “Yes, a prayer.” My eyes started to water like they do as you get older and more sentimental. Before I knew it, we were all holding hands about to say a prayer. Someone spoke up, “Wait, make sure it’s generic. We have a lot of different beliefs here.”
Yep, OK. Definitively generic.
Heads bowed in silence (a rare moment with teens), hands clasped together forming a circle around the food, our 14-year-old prayer appointee poised. A pause. She began, “Dear Heavenly Father, Jesus, we thank you…”
Voices burst out, “That’s not generic. That’s what we were talking about!”
Chatting and arguing ensued and I’m smiling and laughing as they figured things out. The prayer does eventually get finished and before long we’re talking and laughing and building fajitas. Everyone is commenting on how good and fresh the food is and the veteran gardeners are telling us about how they prepared it all.
When I think back on that meal together and that sacred pause right before it, I think we were tapping into something deeper than happiness, deeper than joy, even deeper than fajitas. I think we were beginning to tap into something called wonder, sheer amazement at the beauty and grace of that meal. A meal involving the miracle of seeds, the tender care of plants, the delicate harvest of food, and the thoughtful preparation of that harvest. For a brief moment in time on a day called Thursday, we were all aware. We were held by wonder. We expressed that wonder through our prayer circle as an expression of gratitude. But most importantly, we all ate and were satisfied. And this time, there were no baskets leftover. After all, these were teenagers.