Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Saying Grace Without Words

Although I am not very good at remembering it for other meals, I try to say grace when I sit down for breakfast in the morning. It is a short prayer, similar to the kind I grew up with: "Dear Lord, thank you for this food, and for your many blessings. In Jesus name, Amen." On so many mornings, I just rush through it, barely even considering what I am saying. This morning I caught myself doing just that, so I started over, and tried to pay attention to the words. To my surprise, nothing came. I just felt a calm, wordless, "being with God" moment that seemed to stretch for a while.

Looking back on that moment now, I think about my use of that short prayer. While I didn't need those words this morning, are they what made this morning possible? Quakers have historically looked down on empty rituals and sacraments, but I have to wonder how we can really judge if a ritual is empty. When I rush through grace without thinking about the words, is that empty? I did remember to take a moment to thank God, even if I may not have been too conscious of it. I think a lot of it is your attitude in why you are doing the thing, and not totally how you are doing it. That is, if you are doing it because you think it is something you have to do in order to go to heaven, then perhaps whatever you are doing really is an empty ritual. If you are doing something in order to deepen your relationship with God, however, I believe there is some value, even if you aren't "fully there". Perhaps these unconscious rituals, done for the right reason, are like little drops of water that eventually wear away stone. You may not perceive any wear, until one day, maybe over breakfast, a huge chunk falls away.


  1. Paying attention is always the heart of it -- in my humble opinion, anyway.

    A reporter once asked Mother Teresa what she said to God when she prayed. "I don't say anything," she answered. "I just listen."

    So the reporter asked her what God said to her. "He doesn't say anything," said Mother Teresa. "He just listens."

    And before the startled reporter could say anything more, she added, "If you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you."

  2. Hi Marshall,
    Some of this depends on what "it" is. I agree it is hard to truly pray when we can't pay attention. But I was trying to suggest that our intentions, even when not carried out the best way, can have a gradual effect on us.

    Thank you for sharing that quote from Mother Teresa as well. What I wonder is whether or not that was always the case for her, or did she go through a stage where more of her prayer was verbal. Perhaps it is a mistake to look at where she is now and assume that we can be there immediately by praying the way she does.

    With love,