Growing up, we never said "grace" in my house. My mom was raised Catholic and my dad a Baptist. Somewhere along the line, they both left their childhood churches, and by the time we came along, religion was no longer part of their daily lives.
I suspect that they were unable to reconcile the beliefs taught in their childhood with their scientific understanding of the world. But whatever confusion or yearnings they had, they kept it to themselves, and we went about our business of going to soccer games, fighting over the remote, letting the cat barf in the laundry room and being your average dysfunctional family.
I had friends who went to church and said grace every night before dinner. But "saying grace" was never something we did at my house.
So imagine my mother's surprise when at Thanksgiving dinner one year, my grandmother (my father's Southern Baptist mother) asked, "Who would like to say grace?" and my then 5-year-old brother jumped up and enthusiastically shouted, "I will."
My grandmother's eyes melted as she let out a big, "Awe."
"No, really," my mother quickly interjected. "I don't think he's ready. Why don't you do it, Betty?" She knew full well that her 5-year-old son didn't even know what grace was, much less how to say it.
To which my grandmother answered, "Now Fran, it's just family. We don't care if it's not perfect."
As my mother threw exasperated dagger eyes at my father, silently, but unsuccessfully, commanding him to intervene, my grandmother announced, "Now let's all bow our heads so John can say grace."
Then 20 people lowered their eyes and waited to hear what the 5-year-old had to say.
Realizing that he had the rapt attention of everyone in the room - most especially my mom and dad, who were literally on the edge of their seats - my brother paused for dramatic effect and eloquently issued his one-word proclamation:
Thus revealing to the entire crowd of assembled relatives that my parents were heathen slackers who failed to provide their children with even the most basic religious instruction.
My grandmother never asked again.
Flash forward 30 years to my own dinner table, where in an attempt to provide some spiritual ritual and grounding, we do say grace every night. However, we take a rather, shall we say, "eclectic" approach to such matters.
We use a one-page sheet entitled "Table Graces." It's a random sampling of blessings and poems from numerous religious traditions that I got from a friend.
Every night when we sit down to dinner, we ask, "Who would like to say the blessing?" We all take a deep breath to get present at the table, and then whoever volunteers reads one aloud.
My younger daughter's favorite is, "May the love that is in my heart pass from my hand to yours," followed by an around-the-table hand squeeze.
My husband likes expressing gratitude for the food while my older daughter prefers a Native American blessing.
My favorite is based on a quote from Einstein: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Today let us celebrate the miracle."
Would it pass the Grandma test? Probably, she was a kind person.
Randomly rotating blessings read off a cheat sheet, it might not be scripture, but it sure feels like grace to us.
- Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist and principal of McLeod & More, Inc.