Your brother the Zen Buddhist, your aunt the Methodist, your cousin the Pagan–when we all sit together at the table and the time comes to say words of thanks and blessing over the meal, how do we do it without offending somebody? The answer is to think outside the conventional prayer box.
Here is a simple quiz that can help you find the perfect words of thanksgiving for your family.
Answer “true” or “false” to these 7 statements.
1. My family and dear ones share a love and respect for the Earth.
If this is true for you, you might want to explore “Earth Prayers,” edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (HarperCollins, 1991) for alternatives. The prayers, poems, and invocations in this book come from many different traditions, including several indigenous groups; all are rooted in honoring the earth. If you are uncomfortable reading a selection aloud yourself, you could ask family members to pass a prayer or poem, with each person reading a few lines.
2. Several of us hate being put on the spot to read or say anything out loud.
If this was a “true” for you, you might want to consider simply holding hands around the table and having a moment of silent gratitude for your lives, the abundant food, and your love for each other.
3. We are a musical family; most of us love making or listening to music.
If you answered “true” here, you could sing a simple song together, or play a short piece of music on the stereo while you toast each other. If a loved one has a talent for composing, ask them to contribute a short song for the group to learn.
4. Many of us share a love of poetry and the spoken word.
If your group likes to write, read, or listen to poetry, “Earth Prayers” mentioned above could work for you, or you could share a piece by one of your favorite poets (I love Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, for instance, who write very powerfully about the beauty of nature). If you feel creative, you could collaborate on a poem while dinner cooks: pick a theme (“gratitude,” for instance) and have each person write a line, then put the lines together. Serendipitous poems like these are often surprisingly beautiful and effective.
5. While our spiritual paths may be different, most of us share a love of art and decor; visuals are important to us.
If this is true for you, the setting and decoration of the table and the presentation of the meal may be your way of sharing a blessing. At an artists’ Thanksgiving several years ago, we went foraging around the neighborhood for berries and leaves and then used our finds to make a beautiful centerpiece. Making something with our hands can be a very special blessing-way, as most cooks can tell you. The people who make the meal have already blessed it.
6. I don’t feel comfortable with any of the suggestions above.
If you answered “true” to this one, just being together and offering up a meal is your way of giving thanks. Simple mindfulness of the blessing that life is counts just as much as any poem, prayer, song, or visual display.