Prayer before the Meal


Prayer before the Meal, Steen, 1660. This Thanksgiving, and the unusual coincidence of the American feast tradition with the ancient Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, got me thinking about my own unique heritage.My maternal grandmother’s Jewish mother married a Catholic man, a merchant marine. They left the UK to pursue life in the United States, where my great uncles supported American forces in WWII and my grandmother graduated from convent school in New York.


Prayer before the Meal, Steen, 1665. Although she did not join an order, my grandmother devoutly maintained many of her learned religious habits.She said grace before every meal.We recited The Lord’s Prayer many times each day:“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”


Then, she would always include this addendum: “Dear Jesus, please feed all the hungry people in the world, especially little children. Thank you. Amen.”

Prayer before the Meal, van Gogh, 1882


Although I rarely say grace anymore, I think of my grandmother at every formal meal, and remember her prayers. I wonder who maintains the practice. I wonder what it would do to our world if we gave thanks at every meal.


Prayer before the Meal, van Ostade, 1653

Le Nain Brothers, The Grace, c.1640. With the lone exception of the Rockwell depicting a mother's grateful gaze at her son's return from the war, these artworks, mostly from the Baroque period, capture the tradition of grace as depicted in the West over hundreds of years.As we celebrate this season, I share my wish:May we never hunger.May we never harm.May we always be grateful.Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah.