Saying Grace to Sun, Soil, Seed… and Science
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Article ID: 14919
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 680
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Author: Wormwood Crow
Posted: April 29th. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,297
"Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
For many of us, the above statement has been heard during the Christmas festivities, perhaps even more than once. Many of us come from Christian backgrounds and were expected to say grace before each meal. Or we have friends we have shared the holidays with who take the time to say grace. In any case there is a strong chance you had to sit quietly through some version of the above before getting to chow down on holiday ham, Christmas enchiladas, tofurkey, or something else you, hopefully, found delicious.
Assuming you were part of a group setting that was not primarily Pagan, and grace was being said, did you participate? Did you sit quietly; silently huffing and puffing while the words were being spoken? Did you recite your own personal prayer in your head? Did you let your mind wander over the table in eager anticipation of a heaping plate of tofurkey? Does saying grace before a meal matter to you? Why?
For many Pagans, the phrase “saying grace” recalls strong memories of their pre-Pagan days, some memories positive, some not. Nevertheless, it has a very Christian sound to it, and since many of us left Christianity for a reason, we balk at the notion of including such a Christian ritual in our daily practices. In the Christian tradition saying grace is a thanks to God for our position on the food chain, essentially. Christians thank God for being in a place of authority over his other creations, with the power to turn those creations into a bountiful meal. Pagans, generally, do not feel they hold that type of authority over nature’s creations, but in cultures around the world a form of saying grace is frequently said before meals, and these cultures also do not embrace a dominion-style ideology over creation.
In Native American and other hunter/gatherer style societies, prayers were made to thank nature’s creations, animal and plant, for sacrificing themselves to become the nourishment of the people. People made peace with the spirit of their food sources to ensure that bounty would come their way again. In Hinduism, traditional prayers over food served to purify it before eating. The vessels, the food itself, and the cooking process all needed to be cleansed so as to best prepare food for an unpolluted mind.
Of course, neither of these groups refer to these prayers as “saying grace”, but in Western culture most of us recognize what people are about to do when someone at the table suggests “saying grace”. It is a phrase we are familiar with, and it might be time to recognize some of the merits behind the practice.
Let us glide diplomatically over Christian ideology of dominion over all other creatures and focus the lens on that moment of the day, their heads bowed over plates of food, when they give thanks. Whether the prayer is a short ditty that rhymes or a formal version that evokes the importance of God in that moment of bowed heads, Christians are giving of their time, while their hunger is great and the temptation is set right before them, to offer a little something in return for that bounty. That offering is a good lesson for all of us.
Many Pagans include offerings in our sabbat and esbat rituals. Wiccans call it cakes and ale. Others will burn incense, bury stones, or light candles in a form of oblation for their own particular deities. A few will even go to more extreme measures to show their gratitude by engaging in periodic fasts, ritual scarification, and other forms of bodily sacrifice. Pagans grasp the concept of offerings just fine, but many of us reserve this giving of ourselves to a few certain occasions... frequently the aforementioned holidays, and magical workings.
Christians, too, have their holidays and then their weekly events when something magical happens for them. Yet many of them also take the time to incorporate a little extra self-sacrifice every day. While we may disagree with the ideology behind the sacrifice, it is still one that is heartfelt and done with a steadfast devotion many people, including Pagans, sometimes forget to include in their day-to-day activities. We’re too busy. We got caught up with something and forgot. We’re with people and we feel self-conscious bringing up [Pagan] prayer at the table. We have plenty of excuses for sliding past opportunities to give of ourselves just a little for something as essential to our survival as the food we are about to receive.
So what would a [Pagan] prayer before a meal entail? Naturally, that would have plenty to do with what type of Pagan you are, which deities you subscribe to, and even what company you take your meals with. It is difficult to ignore the fact that many of us live with others who are not so accepting of our spiritual path, whether those people are our parents, our roommates, or a spouse. Yet, we want to acknowledge the spirituality of our food while not making our meals tense. Perhaps the prayer can include all the powerful forces invested to make your food possible without referring to a particular pantheon. With the right words a prayer could appeal to you, fellow Pagans, Christians and secular thinkers alike.
When sitting down to the table, consider the forces involved to produce food. The primal elements that first spring to my mind are sun, soil, seed and science. No need to invoke a particular god or goddess if you recognize the symbolism behind these four essential parts. The projective sun sends light to the receptive soil of the Earth, the god fertilizing the goddess with his light, she the womb of that energy. The seed is the living essence of that coupling, the culmination of millions of years of evolution, and the basis of the food chain where photosynthesis turns light into sugars and feeds all other organisms. These three primal forces are profoundly spiritual to Pagans, but also recognized as the basis for growing things on Earth by nearly everyone, including devout Christians and stanch materialists.
Finally, the science behind our food; and we are not talking about genetically modified food or a culinary lab experiment gone awry. The science of food began when humans first started observing, recognizing and remembering what resources were in their environment, both plant and animal. This was long before the agricultural revolution when we took those observations and began to harness the natural fertility of the Earth by planting, domesticating and storing foodstuffs. Early peoples learned by observations, trial and error, and trading information, that certain foods kept better than others, that some foods could heal, and that parts of some foods could be turned into clothes or shelter.
Today, those early scientific efforts provide us with foods from around the globe, used in culinary art, cosmetics, clothing, decoration, gifts, and even offerings to the gods. Early, early experimentation trying to get seeds to grow in particular places, and early, early attempts to encourage certain wild animals to react more docilely around humans is the basis for a range of colorful cultures around the world. Something as fundamental as simply getting enough to eat has transformed social etiquette, trade, art, celebrations, handling illnesses, and more. We owe a great deal to our naturally inquisitive, methodical, and creative brains for figuring out how to make the wild taste so delicious. And we owe a great deal to nature for our yellow sun, our warm, wet earth, and the seeds that came to flourish in such variety across the biosphere. I remain in awe that these variables came together to provide me savory, diverse and beautiful foods every time I sit down to a meal, and I cannot help but express my appreciation to these forces for that bounty:
Between shining Sun and fertile Soil,
From within Seed and out of Science,
Found in art, and merriment, and illness fought,
This food is sacred, savory, and gratefully sought!*
While materialists might argue the sacredness of the meal, I have found that this short prayer is usually well received by everyone at the table, regardless of spiritual background. It often elicits questions concerning its origin, which leads to a lively discussion about the foods on the table, their origins, and what people enjoy eating. I have found it a good way to encourage conversation, encourage appreciation for both the food and the chef, and encourage a sense of community around the table, all without reducing the inherent sanctity of the meal on my own Pagan terms.
The New Year is a customary time to make resolutions concerning eating habits, usually to lose a little weight. As January creeps along many of these eating resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. Perhaps it is time to approach our meals not with a little calorie counter ticking away in our brains but rather a heartfelt prayer instead. Our meals are sacred to us, personally, culturally, historically and scientifically as well as magically. If we make the resolution to acknowledge that fact every time we take in food, we might find that our other eating resolutions are easier to keep.
*I make no apologies for my lack of poetic skill. I also have a terrible memory and a wretched voice, so a bard I shall never be.
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