Food matters for personal, public, and planetary well-being
Blessings of Our Food
Blessings are a blessing in disguise. There is a deep spiritual understanding to blessings that transcends any particular religion or culture and that goes beyond the use of Bless You in popular culture as a saying of good will.
Blessings for some can mean praying for God’s blessings of material goods and worldly success. In Protestantism there is a strand that says that if we have faith, we will have wealth, for God promises wild wealth and beauty to the righteous. This kind of thinking has led some sociologists to suggest that Protestantism leads to the increased desire for wealth and material goods, leading to a more voracious use of natural resources and increased degradation of the environment. On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian tradition also implies that although God does offer worldwide blessings, blessings are a statement of justice - everyone is entitled to flourish. And the wealth that we shall inherit is not of material goods, but of spiritual growth and wholeness.
In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the biblical writers understand that it is God that blesses, even though God’s name might not appear, such as blessed are the meek. We humans may utter, but God confers. In Catholicism priests are the ones to bless while in Protestantism, anyone can bless another. Either way, humans are the somewhat passive conveyers of words, not actions. But a closer look into blessings reveals that blessings are highly interactive, changing us and perhaps paving a way for changing the world, and it is we humans who do the changing.
Take the example of saying a blessing before a meal. The Talmud teaches that a Jew should say 100 blessings a day, many of which are before a meal. The standard formula is “Blessed are You, Yahweh, our God, Source of Life, who creates the food before us.” It acknowledges that our food comes from God, or that God, either seen as The Divine or the Whole of Existence, is in our food. Our food is therefore sacred. It points us to a higher level of awareness. A blessing reminds us in a daily fashion that we can release ourselves from our mundane self-centered isolationism and go beyond our narrow self-awareness to a spirituality that reminds us with each meal that we are connected to the whole.
A food blessing also reminds us that many beings are responsible for our food – plants, animals, and the hard labor of humans. Even food for those on a 100% plant based diet comes by way of animal death – pesticides kill insects and birds, furrowing and harvesting kills birds, mammals, and insects, and agribusiness such as soy production destroys biodiversity through the planting of monocultures. Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa states “whoever has enjoyment from this world without saying a blessing, it is as if she or he has robbed the Holy One and the community of Israel.” A blessing reminds us that the beings and objects of this world are not ours to take, but ours only to receive. We become thoughtful of our limits and our necessary interdependence on all life and we seek to balance our consumption in all areas of our life.
Buddhists say the same thing in a somewhat different fashion, such as this blessing from Thich Nhat Hanh:
This food is the gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May we live in a way that is worthy of this food.
May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially that of greed.
May we eat only foods that nourish us with and prevent illness.
May we accept this food for the realization of the way of understanding and love.
The depth of this blessing is mirrored in the Christian tradition of blessing as defined by Dr. Elmer Towns. He says “Blessing means making things better, improving your life and services, and does not mean divine intervention.” He continues by saying that when we bless others we add value to others, we give them strength, we promise commitment to others, we purify our emotions, we solidify our relationships, and we increase our potential to minister to others in the world. By being of greater service to others, we are able to bless their lives and our lives with the riches of the community – connection, belonging, healing, and purpose. We are blessed to be a blessing.
An even deeper meaning of blessings is the idea that blessings are a challenge. In Genesis, Jacob thought to trick his father Isaac into blessing him by posing as his elder brother, Esau. He was successful but had to flee for fear of Esau. In the desert he encountered God posing as a man who wrestled with him. Jacob was injured but held on tight to the man and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. God did bless him and changed Jacob’s name to Israel to indicate how Jacob had been transformed. Jacob sought to earn blessings the easy way, but only by having a true encounter with God which wounds him is he able to receive blessings.
The notion that wounding leads to blessings is not unreasonable, given our own experiences of growth after a difficult time. Also interesting is the mixed up etymology of the word, for in French, the word for blessing, blesser means to wound. A blessing is a wrestling, wounding, deepening, learning event – not a blessing to keep us closer held to the status quo, but a blessing to bring us into a deeper understanding of the meaning and hope of life. Many blessings do not come cheap, nor are they conferred cheap. But when they arrive they allow us to continue in the struggle of life, for blessings are something that brings a loving and creative spirit of life that lets us know that we are not alone, and that there is strength abounding in us and in all life.
Each of us names our meaning and way of blessing and being blessed, for we each have different experiences and different gifts. Perhaps a Unitarian Universalist blessing, before meals or not, would go as such:
May my understanding of the worth and interdependence of all life comfort me and keep all beings from harm.
What kind of blessing would you say, for yourself, your family, or your congregation?
I invite you to share your blessings here with others, by adding them to the comments below.
Here are some favorite table graces.
Favorite Table Graces
1.May we be well, happy, and at peace. May we be free from pain, hunger, and suffering.
May all beings be well, happy, and at peace.
May they be free from pain, hunger, and suffering. (Traditional Buddhist blessing)
2. Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Blessed art Thou, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei pri ha-etz.
Blessed art Thou, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe who creates the fruit of the tree.
(Traditional Jewish blessings)
3. God is great! God is good!
And we thank you for our food. Amen.
(Traditional Christian children’s grace)
4. This ritual is One.
The food is One.
We who offer the food are One.
The fire of hunger is also One.
All action is One.
We who understand this are One.
(Traditional Hindu blessing)
5. [Sung] From you I receive, to you I give,
together we share, and from this we live.
(Unitarian Universalist, Joseph and Nathan Segal, Singing the Living Tradition #402)
6. [Sung] All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing ye aloud with cheerful voice;
Let hearts in exultation swell;
Come now together and rejoice
(Unitarian Universalist, William Keith, Singing the Living Tradition #370)
7. It is a blessing to be.
It is a blessing to be here.
It is a blessing to be here now.
It is a blessing to be here now together. (Other phrases, ranging from silly to serious, may be added.)
Amen. (Traditional Unitarian Universalist)
7. Loving spirit, be our guest,
Dine with us, share our bread,
That our table might be blessed
And our souls be fed. (Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Gary Kowalksi)
8. The food which we are about to eat is Earth, Water, and Sun, compounded through the alchemy of many plants. Therefore Earth, Water and Sun will become part of us. This food is also the fruit of the labor of many. We are grateful for it. May it give us strength, health, joy, and may it increase our love.
(Traditional Unitarian grace)
9. May we hold hands quietly for a moment... feeling love flow around us and through us, knowing that as we give it away there is always more here. Amen. (Unknown)
10. Let us walk away from the table with more sustenance than we had, with more joy that we had, and with more appreciation of each other than when we had when we came to this table. (David Kimball)
11. May we come to know what is good in us, to use what is good in us, and to share what is good in us with one another. Amen. (Donald T. Marshall)
12. For what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful to those who prepared and served it. In this festivity let us remember too those who have none, those who cannot share this plenty, those whose lives are more affected than our own by war, oppression and exploitation, those who are hungry, sick and cold. In sharing in this meal, let us be truly thankful for the good in our lives, and may we commit once again to bringing more good to the world. (Author Unknown)
13. Spirit who is all things to us; Presence in which we live and move and breathe and have our being: What a gift to be here together, sharing our food, our spirit, our selves! We ask no blessing upon this food, nor upon ourselves, because the blessing is always here, if we but pay attention. (Author Unknown)
14. What we do ask is for the courage and wisdom to be mindful of thy great blessings. We ask, O Holy One, that we remember to cherish this food, savoring the tastes, the smells, the feel, the miracle of nourishment to our bodies, gifts of our lovely earth. We ask, too, that we remember to cherish each other, to taste and savor our relationships, to understand that what we know of the sacred we know through these bodies and through these connections of friendship and love. (Author Unknown)
15. Grant us the wisdom to pay attention; grant us the generosity and the strength to open our hearts. So be it. Blessed be. Amen. (Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Elizabeth L. Greene)
16. Let us think thrice while we are gathering here for this meal. First, let us think of the people we are with today, and make the most of the pleasure of sharing food and drink together. Then, let us think of the people who made the food and drink and brought it to us, who serve us and wait on us, and who clear up and clean up after us. Finally, let us think of all the people all over the world, members with us in the human family, who will not have a meal today. (Nicolas Walter)
Add additional table graces in the comments below, for posting to this page.