Friday, November 26, 2004

The Season of Awkward Graces

The day before Thanksgiving, I was trolling around the blogworld looking for a grace that would be "less Catholic," since some of the family members that would be pulling up to my table have sadly become Unitarians. And Unitarians of the "greatest power in the universe is human reason" kind. They barely condescend to acknowledge the presence of a God, except perhaps as a catch-all term for stuff that our brains haven't understood yet, or a term used by weak-minded people.

One of them is a cradle Catholic, but they look at those of us who make the Sign of the Cross as though we were laying food offerings before an idol. How quaint, their faces say. Their children don't have a clue (I feel sorriest for them).

So I thought that, being the hostess, I was entitled to control the grace and picked one that mentioned God, as Heavenly Father, but no Jesus Christ and no sacramentals. I seized the opportunity and thanked God for the trials and gifts He sent me this year, and passed the thanksgiving on around the table, then said the short grace and then watched them eat.

This is the season of the Awkward Grace, for those of us (I imagine everybody here) who has family and friends that are somewhere between lapsed and pagan. I would have enjoyed a prayer, a song or a psalm, but they would have left others resentful or confused. So a combination of cowardliness and reticence took me down the short rhymed thanks to God route.

This is different than those of you who are Catholic and have family/friends who are anti-Catholic but are still fervent believers in Christ. I kind of envy you right now.

Who said that they marvelled at atheists when they felt thankful for a beautiful day; to whom do they direct their thanks?


eulogos said...

My parents were Unitarians. I was a Unitarian, before I became an Episcopalian and then soon a Catholic. So most Thanksgivings of my life had no grace, even after I was a Catholic, since I went to my parents' house most of the time. My husband wasn't religious either for years, so we didn't have a strong family habit of saying grace, and most of my children have not kept it up. But they will mostly sit still for a quick Bless us Oh Lord and these thy gifts.... This thanksgiving the one daughter who was home has been going to different Protestant churches, Congregationalist, Baptist...My husband asked her to say grace and I teased her and said if she were going to be a Baptist she would have to learn to pray spontaneously. But when she didn't say anything, I went the Bless us Oh Lord etc route, and she did join in. She did'nt cross herself though. I am just happy she is going to church at all.

I think you should pray whatever grace you are used to, through Christ Our Lord Amen and all. You don't know what kind of effect it might have on some one of the listeners. "What do these people have, what do they know, what is it that means so much to them?" may be in someone's heart even as they look embarrassed, make a face or a facetious comment. I know, I have been there.
Susan F. Peterson

Roz said...

Interesting thread. The tradition in my family is for the host (either my father or brother, neither one fervent believers) to ask one of us "religious" folks to ask the blessing before the meal. My brother-in-law was up to bat this year. He was spontaneous, heartfelt, un-pushy and Godly. I have no idea how God might use our prayers, our signs of the Cross or just the family's glimpses of how we live our lives in Christ. I hope it's tangible. If it's not, the Holy Spirit knows how to fix it.

Therese Z said...

Susan said:

"You don't know what kind of effect it might have on some one of the listeners. "What do these people have, what do they know, what is it that means so much to them?" may be in someone's heart even as they look embarrassed, make a face or a facetious comment.

And she put her finger on something I hadn't admitted: that when the rest of us who ARE religious, to some extent or another, say grace, we are sheepish, hurried, subdued. If I had a critical mass of people (okay, I mean if I had some holy boldness) that loved the Lord and were open-hearted and happy about it, then her point is perfect, we'd be attractive to the others, having something they might want. Looking down into your lap and sketching a little hasty prayer does not look like we're enjoying it.

That's what I have to work on, stepping up and testifying to the change in my life.
an said:

alicia said...

This is the grace from my husband's family - I have used it to great avail in some of these difficult situations:
We thank you for the house in which we dwell
For the love that unites us
FOr the peace accorded us this day
For the health, the works, the food and the bright skies
that makes our day delightful
My mother in law would then follow up with the morning offering and a hail mary, our father, and a Glory be.

Henry Dieterich said...

I too started out as a Unitarian. My father and brother still are; my sister married a Jew and their family is basically Jewish (though not Orthodox). We don't get together for Thanksgiving, but we do for Christmas, and occasionally my father, a strict materialist (in the philosophical sense), will ask me, I suppose as the senior religious-type person present, to say grace a Christmas dinner. I guess he feels that such an occasion demands it. I have on occasion tried to make up a generic sort of prayer that did not stick in my throat. A much happier alternative I hit on was to use some form of the Jewish blessing for food. A majority of those present found it familiar, and there is nothing mealy-mouthed about it. "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who bring forth food from the earth" is not strictly one of the blessings (it is an altered form of the blessing of bread) but it got my brother-in-law's approval. There is no reason why Christians can't use most Jewish prayers (after all, what else are we doing when we pray the Psalms?) and they tend to give less offense to decided secularists.



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