It's 6:15pm on a weeknight. I'm rushing around cooking dinner. My husband Michael is simultaneously running herd on our 3.5-year-old daughter Alex, setting the table, and trying to steal a peek at the news. Alex is underfoot and demanding attention after a long day at nursery school. Michael and I are both tired from long days at work. The pre-dinner hour is not the best time of day for our family — I suspect that the same is true for many of you.
At 6:30, we sit down and reach out to each other. The three of us hold hands and begin to sing:
For each new morning with its light
For rest and shelter of the night
For health and food, for love and friends
For everything that Goodness sends
As we sing, we look into each others' eyes and smile. At the end of our grace, Alex says "Thank you, my family!" Michael and I comment on how glad we are to all be together. The chaos and hurry of the pre-dinner hour has been transformed, at least for the moment, into loving and peaceful connectedness.
We've been saying grace for about a year and a half. We began after attending SUUSI, the Southeast Unitarian-Universalist Summer Institute, in 2007. I realized that I really enjoyed the religious practice incorporated into daily life at SUUSI. But my previous attempts at home religious practice, such as meditation, had always been unsuccessful. I'm too busy, too scattered, and too tired to set aside time each day when nothing else is on my mind.
So we decided to try something simple as a family: singing grace. We alternate the grace above with one Alex brought home from nursery school:
Oh, the Earth is good to me
And so I thank the Earth
For giving me the things I need
The sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Earth is good to me.
Some benefits we have found to our daily grace:
• The physical act of singing forces us to slow down and take deep breaths. This helps bring us all to the table in a calmer mood.
• Grace helps us be mindful that dinner is a special time for our family to be together. It reminds us to be present and aware with each other as we connect after our day apart.
• Grace reminds us that we are a religious family seven days a week, not just at church. It has prompted us to pay closer attention to Alex’s faith development and the religious values we model for her at home.
• Saying grace has encouraged us to “come out of the closet” as a religious family. We say grace when we have guests in our home, even if those guests are not religious or practice a different religion. Sharing our family moment of spiritual connectedness with guests spreads the light of Unitarian-Universalism in the world.
If your family doesn’t do any spiritual practice together at home, you might like to experiment with the simple act of saying grace. Try it for a week or a month, and see how it feels. I hope you’ll find it as rewarding as we do.