Sometimes I don’t realize it until I’m halfway through. The pasta is getting cold, or my friends are mid-tacos and mid-laughter, and it hits me: I forgot to say grace. Saying grace—when I was a kid, we called it “saying the blessing”—certainly doesn’t make you thankful. I remember, as a child, that saying grace was something that got passed around, forced on the least-assuming or last-to-arrive member of the family. Though we often said it, it was almost always rushed, the last hurdle to jump through before we could eat. And we loved to eat. We often said it in a song meant for children, because nobody wanted his or her prayer to be judged. And all of that for nothing, it seems, because I still forget to say grace.
Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, the person I’ve met for dinner asks me if I wouldn’t mind blessing, or I extend the invitation to her. “Do you want to bless it?” I say, unsure if this is still something everyone does. I know that because I live in the Bible Belt, everyone knows about it, and for many people, it’s just a ritual. As someone who was raised by some of the sweetest, most Southern Southern Baptists you’ve ever met, I know the power of a ritual. Sometimes, they bring us together; other times, they’re to make us look shinier and feel good about how shiny we look. I’m all for tradition; I’m less for meaningless rituals. So sometimes I falter before I say grace. (For what it’s worth, I can’t make a potluck casserole to save my life, either.)
But at the heart of grace is just that—the grace we receive. It’s about food, sure. It’s about padding into the kitchen in the mornings to find plenty of manna left over from the day before. It’s about not worrying about where my next meal is going to come from; it’s about understanding hunger only in the most meager sense. It’s the grace that makes it possible for me to show up to the lake, peppermint bark tucked in a Christmas tin. It’s grace that causes me to pause, mid-conversation, to ask what has just occurred to me: “Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?” It’s grace that means I can say yes when Tuesday night messages come, asking me to meet friends for dinner. Sometimes, at these dinners, all of that slams into me as the waiter sets down the plate, and, fork poised, I say it for all of us, out loud, whether they want to or not: “Thank you, Jesus.”
But I’ve learned something in all of that business of dodging rituals. I’ve learned a lot about freedom, about how we, as children of God, are allowed to love truly and deeply and madly, in ways that upset dogma and make grace tangible. In fact, I’ve learned a lot about love, how I’ve been loved and how that love compels me. I’ve tasted and seen God—the goodness of him, the sovereignty of him, the gentleness of him, the carefulness of him—and all of that has compelled me to return to saying grace.
But I don’t say it like I used to.
I am learning the art of blessing. Each day, I try to know more about how to look people in the eye and say grace: “I forgive you” and “I’m sorry I only have coins to give you” and “You’re going to be alright.” I know, now, that I can say grace with every text message and phone call and blog post and tweet. I have always been a girl of many words, but I understand now that I haven’t always been gracious with them. And sometimes, I hear, the most grace-filled way to spend some time is in silence. I have said grace, I hope, in the way that I can’t keep walking if I see a pile of red leaves in a parking lot unless I take a picture. Something about the beauty of it is grace on me, and I hope to be a woman who turns it back into praise. I have said salty grace as I cried, because that’s the only way I can get the grace out. I have said grace when I didn’t want to, because grace has been said to me. In the early mornings, while I drink the first cup of coffee, I charge myself to be a grace-noticer, a grace-speaker, a grace-giver. Sometimes, before I’ve left the house for work, I’ve already failed.
When I go home, we still bow our heads before our meals and say the blessing. When I’m with my friends, sometimes the laughter quiets as making the meal passes into eating the meal, and our hands find each other. Grace is said, a blessing on the food and each other, on the hands that made it and on our conversation. When it’s finished, we move on, picking up the stories we were telling. When I’m by myself, sometimes I mutter a quick prayer of thanks, not for the ritual of it, but because I am so thankful. And there are still times that I forget.
But in perhaps the most beautiful twist in the story of the world, there is grace for that.