A Game to Play at Dinner

Opening our eyes to the giant sangha that keeps us alive.


image courtesy of adobestock.com

Saying grace before a meal wasn’t something I grew up with, but I visited plenty of families who did. The words would come tumbling out of the father’s mouth, or whoever was chosen to say it — and I could never really tell what they were saying. Something about bless us oh lord and these gifts and us to thy service. It always went by in a blur.


Occasionally, on Thanksgiving or Christmas, Mom would arrange it so Dad would say grace. And I liked it when he did. Some ha’ meat but canna’ eat. Some can eat but ha’ no meat. But we ha’ meat and we can eat so let us be thank-ed. Why the old world accent I don’t know, but that’s what he’d say. And he’d say it with feeling.


And, although it was rare that grace was said at our table, our family’s version seemed better than the speedmumble I’d heard elsewhere.


When I had my own family, we just ate our meals. We never said grace. I mean, sure, at Thanksgiving we all went around and acknowledged what we were grateful for; but it was only once a year, and it usually took forever to get around the table so we were all glad when it was over.


My children are grown and gone now with lives of their own. I’ve been steadily aging into a wider-, deeper-minded, softer version of myself as the past few decades have rolled by. And lately, I’ve been privately ‘saying’ my own grace before eating. This involves pausing to think about how many thousands of beings had to cooperate with life for this particular bite of food to end up on my plate. For me. And this is fine.


But I wonder what it would be like to converse about it, while eating, as a way of saying a kind of ongoing grace.


Let’s make it a game.


How many different beings can we name and be grateful for knowing that, without them, we wouldn’t have this bite of broccoli to eat. Start with the standard ones: the farmer who planted the broccoli and cultivated it. The grocery store manager that stocked it.


But who else? What about the farmer’s spouse, who sustains the household so the farmer can work? What about the accountant who works for the company that makes the boxes that the broccoli goes into? The truckers who drive it across the country? The waitresses at the truckstops?


It can turn into such a creative moment of humility. Reaching into the depths of one bite of broccoli, you might find some grace for the inventor of the harvesting machine. Or for the scientists who researched the health benefits of broccoli (and their spouses, their mentors, their parents, etc.).



Eventually, you will come to the elemental ‘beings’. Wind, sun, soil, and rain. The whole creative cycle that keeps us alive.


And that’s what real grace is, to me.


Connecting with that which is immeasurably larger than us. Something we can’t truly understand, but we know it’s there — and so before we put the food in our mouths, we join our palms and bow our heads to it, knowing that without this giant, miraculous sangha of farmers, pickers, accountants, trees, tire-makers, road construction workers, rivers, produce managers, grocery store clerks, wind storms, computer geeks that made ApplePay possible, etc., we would not be able to put one mouthful of food in our bodies.


We’re all connected, and this connection is sacred. Remember it the next time you move your fork toward your mouth.