(photo credit: sea turtle on flickr)
Just before lifting his spoon to begin the soup course, my friend, Ken, paused, looked over at us and said a brief prayer of gratitude. He thanked God for the meal we were about to enjoy and the opportunity and good fortune he had to share it with his wife and me.
This may be standard practice where you come from, but as a New Yorker, I can honestly say praying before meals is not something that happens much when socializing with friends, new or old, in public, or private settings.
A few minutes into the meal I decided to reflect aloud on Ken’s blessing. My hosts appeared surprised — possibly even shocked that I referenced his prayer. This opened a dialogue between the three of us. Ken told me that praying before meals has always been his tradition, but he admitted that sometimes he unsure how praying before a meal is “going to play” with new guests, including ones from different cultures, parts of the world, and especially — I imagine, from New York City.
There is a pernicious stereotype about New Yorkers as callous, and New York Culture as “Materialistic,” and “Godless,” and while it may be the former, it is certainly not the later. Even though I have not often been at social events where people pray in Manhattan, there is a tremendous reservoir of faith and spirituality here in the Big Apple, it is simply a matter of where you look for it.
Taking this brief pause for prayer had a tremendous impact on me and on the meal. I have recently become quite interested in faith as vital to well-being, and so I have been reviewing much of the literature on prayer. Praying has gotten a bad rap lately as scientists have tried to systematically study whether or not intercessory prayer“works” (whatever that means, I don’t really even know). These studies on prayer miss the central point: I am well versed in the data and meta-analytic studies on prayerthat dismiss the value or prayer and let me assure you, praying works – it is just a matter of how you define “works.”
For me, experiencing my friend and his wife expressing gratitude for the good fortune of being able to enjoy a meal in a home with a new friend is the essence of prayer “working.” Ken’s words centered me and caused me to cherish my own good fortune for being with him, getting to be in good mental and physical health, and for having the capacity to recognize my personal blessings. Moreover, as someone who tends to eat more quickly than I should, I found myself slowing down to eat, savoring most — though admittedly not all — of the bites of the meal (graduate students in search of a dissertation topic take note: I am certain that praying before a meal promotes healthier eating habits, though I have not seen this studied.) In this way, prayer absolutely works. At least it did for me.
As we approach Thanksgiving and this holiday season, I offer this article in the hopes that it has some impact on you, your family, your holiday and beyond. Whether or not you choose to pray before meals, or faith is central to your life, or you believe in God, I encourage you to take the time to pause, even for just a moment, to recognize the good fortune that you do have in this world.
Take stock of where you are blessed. Life changes quickly, and taking the time to center yourself in the moment in order to express your gratitude is one thing you can do to elevate your experience to a higher plain. It may also help you to slow down the moments of grace that all too often whizz by, and that you may not recognize until they are long past. At the very least, it may help you eat your meal more slowly, which is something we should all probably do anyway.
Warm regards and best wishes for a meaningful Thanksgiving and holiday season!
K. Masters, G. Spielmans, J. Goodson “Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2006 Aug;32(1):21-6. This article was originally published on Huffington Post