I'm devoutly secular and was raised so. Almost all of my friends are either retired Catholics or Jewish atheists or freethinkers or UU's or never-wases, so I was taken aback and a bit unsettled last week when just as the guests were starting to dig in at a friend/neighbor's dinner-party, we all paused for a moment and held hands while the head of the household thanked the Lord for providing. It was a brief and inoffensive grace but still startling because so unfamiliar.
And then I thought, if I were going to deliver a "grace" before a meal, what would I say? For I must admit that I feel great gratitude every time that I lift a fork to my hungry, salivating mouth.
To begin, I wouldn't thank any god or gods, because I don't see the least evidence or sign of the supernatural around the table. No god of the beets or the chicken or the lasagna.
Instead, I would thank, sincerely and reverently, all the people, present and past, who have in fact made a real and palpable contribution to the meal. Let us think about the slice of bread. No real presence of the transcendent, but immanent with the labor of the farmer. And the trucker who delivered the fertilizer and the trucker who took the wheat to market. And the guys at the John Deere factory in Moline who made the tractor that harvested the seven grains in my particular slice. And the baker. And for that matter, now that I think about it, how about our intelligent Neolithic ancestors who first spotted the einkorn or emmer and decided that it was a plant worth domesticating. Moreover, the butter that I lavished on the bread did not arrive by flights of angels but has its own particular chain of development and distribution. And then the wine, the "merry cheerer of the heart" that wouldn't have cheered anyone's heart if someone hadn't mastered the technology not only of wine-making, but also of glass bottles. And I would also thank the furniture makers -- the designers, the carpenters, the turners -- because there would be no sitting at the table without their help. I could go on and on, but I think the sitters-down at my board would take my point. A moment's reflection reminds us that when we sit down to dinner, we sit at the top of the endeavors of not dozens but millions of people.
It is to them that I offer my thanks, my gratias, my grace.