Bless This Food

Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World

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  1. Blessing #1

    Ancient Egyptians prayed to Hapi, the Nile god of nourishment, petitioning for the flood that would enrich the fields. Each and every year, Hapi would increase the Nile so that it flooded, depositing rich soil on the farmlands, allowing the Egyptians to grow crops — and survive. His name means “Running One,” referring to the current of the Nile. Occasionally, the annual flood was said to be the arrival of Hapi. In hieroglyphics he is was often pictured carrying offerings of food or pouring water.

  2. Blessing #2

    China is the oldest surviving civilization in the world. This extraordinary ancient poem personifies hospitality and a gathering of friends for a feast and intelligent conversation. This poem is as inspiring today as when it was written over seventeen hundred years ago. The thoughts are a sublime expression of the pleasure of sharing and enjoying life through the entertainment of guests with warmth and goodwill. At this meal, tongues would have been loosened by warmed alcoholic beverages.

  3. Blessing #3

    Walter Rauschenbusch was an American Baptist minister who “wanted to do hard work for God,” a calling he fulfilled as a pastor in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. Life in the slums thrust in his face the need of the working poor for better health care and better food, among other things. A champion of social reform, he founded the nondenominational Kingdom of God to address the problems of the working poor and immigrants through the application of Christian principles to social problems, specifically poverty, alcoholism, crime, poor schools, poor hygiene, and child labor. The contemporary question of Evangelicals — “What would Jesus do?” — was the moral model for his ministry. The first line of this blessing, “A circle of friends is a blessed thing,” is an exquisite statement of thanks giving.

  4. Blessing #4

    Chief Dan George was a gifted actor, writer, and chief of the Salish Band in Burrard Inlet, British Columbia. He first came to prominence in a supporting role as the Indian who adopts the character played by Dustin Hoffman in Arthur Penn’s film Little Big Man (1970), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. The above poem is from his book My Spirit Soars. He tried to use his writing and media roles to give an accurate depiction of American Indian beliefs and values. He wrote several books and gave numerous speeches on behalf of his people. His words are moving and reach deep into the hearts of all people as he pours out his sadness for the plight of Indian people everywhere.

  5. Blessing #5

    Buddhism offers us a radical approach to life, and its teachings are both challenging and inspiring. Buddha gave clear, direct, and comprehensive instruction on how to transform all aspects of one’s life in the light of the dharma, the underlying order in nature, with an emphasis on human nature being in accord with that order.

    Buddhist centers worldwide offer meditation classes, courses, retreats, study programs, and other Buddhist practices. Reading some of the oldest Buddhist texts today may lead one to find ways to apply them in daily life. Buddhist retreats and chanted meditations are intended to make the mind calm and peaceful. If your mind is peaceful, it will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and you can experience true happiness; but if your mind is not peaceful, you will find it difficult to be happy. The chanted meditations, known as pujas, follow a range of Buddhist prayers. Buddha told his followers, “Where the Noble Eightfold Path is found, there those endowed with wisdom are found.”

Food Blessings Connect All Humankind

Food blessings provide a window to the profound spirituality that we all share and that connects us to all humankind, nature, and the infinite.

The thanks-giving food blessing is the prayer said most often in the home. This is its essential beauty. Saying a blessing before a meal can bring us closer to our brothers and sisters, parents and friends. Asking a friend to choose and recite a food blessing is a wonderful way to welcome that person into your family setting. The occasional gathering for prayer, no matter how brief, keeps the heart and mind in touch with the most fundamental of joys: belonging.

To any child, a blessing provides the opportunity to participate actively in a family ritual instead of remaining a subordinate, passive member at the table. Children discover that food prayers provide an educational experience that stimulates the mind with many subjects: nature, history, spirituality, religion, people, and customs of other cultures throughout the world. Whether impromptu words or a formal prayer, the food blessing is a powerful medium that enriches the meaning of family and allows us to touch a higher realm of spirituality.

While prayers often derive from specific religious contexts, they may be experienced and enjoyed by all, just as religious music and fine art transcend their origins and have universal appeal. There are many nonreligious prayers that evoke spirituality by virtue of the beauty of the words and the underlying humanity that shines through.

Paleolithic rock art presents evidence of the intellectual life of our prehistoric ancestors. Humankind’s earliest recorded beginnings employ food images as an expression of thankfulness to supreme beings. The Lascaux caves in southwestern France date from 30,000 years ago, and the paintings on their walls depict an array of horses, bulls, and stags — the animals of survival for the Cro-Magnons. The extraordinary art in these caves celebrates animals as both a gift from the Almighty and sustenance on earth. To me these paintings are pre-language symbolic thought, an illustration of thanks giving for life-sustaining food.

Likewise, in Egypt virtually of all of the wall paintings in ancient tombs honor the gods with gifts. Food is ever-present as both gift-offering and sustenance for the deceased pharaohs (kings) and their retinues when making the journey to the next life in the otherworld. Ancient Egyptian art contains many images of offering tables of food to the gods Osiris and Isis, depicting gifts of grapes, wine, sheaves of wheat, cakes of divine bread, duck, and fish being presented to the gods by royal priests, kings, and queens.

From humankind’s earliest beginnings to today, food is the thanks-giving link and universal form of expression for gratitude to the Almighty. Click here to read more…

Adapted from the book Bless this Food: Ancient & Contemporary Graces from Around the World © 2013 Adrian Butash. Click here to read the full article.

Adrian Butash is the author of Bless this Food: Ancient & Contemporary Graces from Around the World (New World Library, 2013). He studied history and culture of the world at Fordham University. He lives in Santa Barbara, CA.

Read more about Adrian Butash

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