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Saying Grace: Mealtime Blessings Around the World

Whether we bow our heads over pasta or pad thai, giving thanks connects us not only with a higher power, but with each other.

Everyone does it: from the Burmese and Balinese to the Inuit and Icelanders. In the United States, almost half of us do it, making it one of the most common of our shared rituals.We give thanks for our food with prayer, with rituals and dance, before meals, after eating, and in praise of a bountiful harvest. We thank someone, or something—mother, a god, the earth, the sun, the soil, the rain, or the people joining us at the table.Theologist Laurel Schneider, the author of Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation, said that in the time before pasteurization and refrigeration, “blessings may have been part purification (we pray that this food will not mysteriously kill us)” along with simple gratitude and the practice of “pleasing God/the spirits/the ancestors.” Acknowledging, she says, that the food “is not ours to begin with, but loaned to us” by those entities keeps us humble and in proper harmony. “I do like the universality of blessing food,” she says. “It reminds us that our bodies are part of spirituality, too.”Beyond the spiritual, our bodies benefit from a pause to give thanks: “Taking a m …

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