When I was growing up, dinner was a sacred time for my family. My dad worked out of town, so we didn't see him until around 6:00 pm or later most nights by the time he got home. My mom would always have a home-cooked meal waiting, and my brother and I would drop whatever we were doing to come sit at the table. Television was forbidden, as were electronics - we all sat and talked, every single night. I had no idea how rare that was until I got to college and wasn't sitting down each day with a companion for a full meal with no distractions.
I grew up Methodist, and if there was one thing I knew how to do, it was say a prayer before a meal. We would set the table, stare at all the food, and have to bow our heads while the volunteer rambled on to God about everything we were thankful for. I never cared much for it. But then my family stopped religiously going to church each week, and every once in a while when company was over we would skip the prayer. It was always weird when we did, and my mom, dad, brother and I would all share a brief moment of uncomfortability. Until it got less uncomfortable...and then it became odd to say a prayer.
Then, when I went through my phase of hating Christianity, I despised praying. I thought it was one of the silliest things dreamt up by man - asking "God" to help you with this or that. I wouldn't do it, and would just sit silently judging with my eyes wide open during prayer time.
Now, I have been learning about the power of intention and about taking care of yourself. I heard from a few different sources the power of eating with intention, and so I tried to give it a go. I put down my cell phone and took a break from my computer to eat in silence, by myself, and really dwell on the nourishment I was providing myself with. I thanked the food for its nutrients, and I thought about all the people who had a hand in making it. I thanked the animals and plants and universe for producing the energy that I was fueling my body with. I heard once that if you cannot eat food that was prepared or raised humanely, you should apologize to that soul and ask its forgiveness for the pain it was caused, then appreciate it for the energy it is passing onto you. That resonated with me, and so I always try to remember to do this.
I found myself pausing just before my meals, after my plate was full and I was on the brink of diving in, to take a moment to thank all of those souls and acknowledge and appreciate their presence in my life now. Even more coincidentally, I found myself pressing my palms together in prayer pose, balancing my hands perpendicular to my arms in a posture of ease, strength, and humility. I decided that I needed a short mantra to say just before diving in, and so I came up with this one after much meditation and revision:
"Love to all the souls who nourish me."
(to be said before a meal, after your plate is filled) a reminder of everyone who played a role in your meal — both in food and life // an apology to any soul mistreated // an opportunity to reflect on the energy in your food and the nourishment it will provide // an opportunity to be conscious of yourself // a way to pause with loved ones and share positive energy
It was because of this that it occurred to me that perhaps Christianity wasn't as random as I had originally and ignorantly assumed, and that it may have fantastic lessons and principles that were simply clouded by the corrupted. As a kid, I was brainwashed into their way of thinking about the Bible - but now that I have a fresh perspective with the ability to objectively interpret religious text and a good understanding of who I am and everything I know the world is not, I think I am ready to be reintroduced to some of the wisdom Jesus and his friends had to share. After all, the concept of prayer is a beautiful one - it is pausing before a meal to thank the universe, just with a little different language.
I do not consider this mantra to be a "prayer." The concept of prayer I admire, but the religious and political connotations that come with the word I do not, and so I do not wish to promote prayer or subsequently religion. The mantra is also kept to one line that does not address any one being - it addresses the collective whole, something we are all a part of. It is meant to be said after your plate is loaded, since that is when anticipation is highest and gratitude most forthcoming; it promotes politeness in waiting to start eating before everyone has been served. It is short because no one likes to take five minutes to say grace while hot food goes cold. It is also easy to remember, and no one has to volunteer to put on an impromptu speech for the Big Guy upstairs. Win-win-win, if you ask me.