I'm devoutly secular, just as I was raised. Moreover, almost all of my friends are equally unreligious: either retired Catholics or atheist Jews or freethinkers or lapsed UU's or never-wases. I was therefore taken aback and a bit unsettled last week when at a friend and neighbor's dinner party last, just as the guests were starting to dig in, 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. I had momentarily stepped into another world.
And then I thought, if I were preparing to deliver a "grace" before a meal, what would I say? Who would I thank? For I readily confess that I feel great gratitude every time that I lift a loaded 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 for a moment about the slice of bread. While I could not detect the real presence of anything transcendent, yet the bread was 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 all the seven grains in my particular slice. And the baker. Road builders. 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 through its own particular chain of development and distribution. And then the wine, the "merry cheerer of the heart" which 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 like to thank the furniture makers -- the designers, the carpenters, the turners -- because there would be no sitting at the table without their help. And therefore foresters and the manufacturers and inventors of chain saws. 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 collect ourselves for dinner, we profit from the efforts and endeavors of not dozens but millions of people. Diachronic and synchronic, now and then.
It is to all of them that I offer my thanks, my gratias, my grace. And in doing so I acknowledge my continuing connection to all members of our wonderful, horrible species.