Monday, January 03, 2011

An Easy Resolution For Us

Okay, so it's January 3rd and pretty much everybody who was going to make a New Year's resolution has already made one or given up on the idea or both. But in the unlikely idea there's anyone still looking for an idea, might I suggest something: praying before meals (aka saying grace, asking the blessing), even if you're in public.

I live in the Bible Belt, a part of the country whose religiosity is apparently so intense as to offend people on the East and West Coasts, and I have hardly ever seen prayer in restaurants, cafeterias, and such. As a child I, like most of my classmates, was taught to pray before meals at home; it's often the first prayer people teach their children. But for the most part we didn't pray before meals in public areas. (Church gatherings would be an exception here.)

People who I knew were church-goers and who I'm pretty sure prayed before meals in their homes never seemed to do so in public. It's almost as if it were taboo to pray in public, but most of the people I grew up with were proponents of prayer in the public schools, so there goes that theory.

I figure skipping the before-meal prayer in public is either habit or they're too embarrassed to actually do it.

What's to be embarrassed about? I can only call recall a couple of instances where I definitely saw someone who was alone pray before a meal in a public area and both times I thought better of them, although I was not a practicing Christian myself. Once was when I was a teenager in a MacDonalds and a man who was obviously a drifter of some sort sat down with his meal and began to address his Heavenly Father so loudly that pretty much everyone turned to look. I don't recommend this, but I thought no worse of him for it.

The other was when I saw an older woman at my workplace sitting with her lunch in the employee lounge bow her head and move her lips in silent prayer before she began eating, and I thought, "Good for her". She was a nice lady and as far as I could tell she always prayed like that, whether she was eating alone or with others. I loved that she didn't compromise her beliefs just because she happened to be in public.

Gratitude is the fundamental religious instinct. Even people with no religious training--or who have rejected what they received--feel the need to give thanks at times. It's an instinct worth nurturing. "Ungrateful" is an insult in every part of society. That's the reason a before-meal prayer is often the first prayer people teach their toddlers, right along with the "please" and "thank you" they're teaching them to say to humans. Those expressions are not empty ones.

An article in a pagan magazine I saw a long time ago said that "please" and "thank you" are actually manifestations of a profound truth: noone owes you anything. Noone owes you, so when you ask for something, you acknowledge that by asking nicely. Noone owes you, so when they give you something, you express gratitude; they didn't have to give it to you, but they did.

If we say thank you to the stranger who tells us what time it is or a friend who passes us a cup of coffee, how much more should we say it to God, the one who gave us everything? If he gave you the intelligence to get yourself to the restaurant and earn the money to pay for the meal and the good fortune to live in a country where there's abundant food to buy, why not a little thank you, even if there are people around who might see and suspect what you're doing. If you're Catholic, cross yourself afterward and let 'em see. It might remind them to think about the things they're grateful for.

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