Kelly, Jones and Slick

Rub a dub dub, thank God for the grub.

While the above phrase is often maligned as the lamest possible way to say grace, I kind of admire its unabashed, pithy simplicity. And I sometimes wonder if it’s any less meaningful to God than most of our phoned-in pre-meal blessings.

Karen and I decided recently to move away from the MPG (memorized poem grace) format we both grew up with to a more spontaneous, unscripted prayer before meals. It takes a bit more time and thought, but it’s worth the effort. The idea is to be more genuine and thoughtful during prayer, rather than mindlessly regurgitating some rhymed phrases and chowing down.

For that reason, the concept of prayer before meals has been on my mind lately. ‘Saying grace’ is something I’ve done for most of my life, and until recently I haven’t given it a second thought – or perhaps even a first.

Therefore, some contemplation is probably overdue. Here goes:

Just from a simple nomenclature standpoint, why do we even call it ‘saying grace?’ It’s certainly by God’s Grace that we have food, but it’s just as much by God’s Grace that we have clothing, shelter and people who love us. When we give thanks for those important items, we don’t call those prayers ‘grace,’ do we? So what’s the deal?

Why do we say grace before meals, but not snacks? What if you go to a movie and have popcorn for supper – should you give thanks for your junk food, too? Or is the MGT (Minimum Grace Threshold) related to the number of food groups represented? Perhaps the line is whether or not you have meat on your nachos. (Vegan Christians [if such an animal exists], you’re on your own.)

How about if you blessed your roast beef dinner last night, and are having the leftovers in a sandwich for lunch today – does the blessing from last night cover today, too, or do you have to pray again, to bless the bread and mayo? Is there a danger that the two blessings could cancel each other out?

I’ve attended a couple of Christian gatherings where prayers were said both before and after meals. I suppose more expressions of thankfulness are better than fewer, but were we afraid God didn’t hear us the first time? Or were we worried that one grace wouldn’t adequately express how thankful we were? If that’s the case, why stop at before and after? Why not during, as well? Maybe we should give thanks after every bite. Or better yet, before AND after. Or maybe before, after and during – unless it’s ungraceful to pray with your mouth full.

OK, OK. Perhaps I’m overthinking the topic – or turning what’s supposed to be pious contemplation into recreational semantic hair-splitting. (It’s a slippery slope for me, I’ll admit.) The point of this discussion is to try to make pre-meal prayers more meaningful, and that’s also the reason Karen and I abandoned our childhood MPGs a few months ago.

But even after this change, I find myself saying almost an identical prayer before each supper. I thank God for the day, for the chance for the four of us to dine together and for the food. I then ask Him to bless the food and help us use it to do his will that evening and into the next day. A detail here or there may change, but it’s essentially the same prayer day after day.

Is that OK? Should I try to ‘mix it up’ to ‘keep it fresh?’ Or would that action be nothing more than variety for its own sake? If the emotions – simple but genuine – don’t change much from day to day, do the words need to?

And if they don’t, then what’s wrong with the MPG format?

Some of my favourite memories of summer camp (I only attended once as an adult, and I was a cabin leader, not a camper) were the fun grace songs that preceded the slightly more spontaneous ‘bless this food and the hands that prepared it’ prayers we said before meals. Johnny Appleseed and the Addams Family Grace were gems, but pale in comparison to the Brown Cow song:

We thank the brown cow for the chocolate milk
We thank the pig (oink oink) for the bacon on the grill
We thank the egg for the chicken and the chicken for the egg
We thank the Lord for our daily bread. Amen!

My maternal Granddad’s favourite grace was a lot more reverent:

‘We thank thee Heavenly Father for this table spread before us.
Feed our bodies with spiritual and temporal foods, as thou see’st that we need.
Bless the sick, the afflicted, the poor and the needy; and bless the absent ones.
Guide us all through the day, and forgive us our sins.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We still trot this old workhorse out for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, etc., but probably in homage to Granddad as much as to God. Is that OK?

My dad’s family uses a lovely special-occasion grace called Come and Dine at major family gatherings, singing it in stunning three-part harmony. But I get the sense that when they sing it, the prayersong is at least as much about mutual musical admiration and family bonds as it is about Godly gratitude. Is that OK?

Is any of it OK?

Or are even our most eloquent, cerebrally, emotionally and spiritually-charged prayers – whether they’re spontaneous or scripted – ridiculously inadequate to even scratch the surface of how grateful we ought to be for the amazing, staggering, profound, unquantifiable Gift that is life and the things that sustain it?

Therefore, maybe the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) applies, and Rub a dub dub is a perfectly legitimate way to say Thank God for the grub.

Peace be with you.

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About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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