Premeal Tribulation

Some people use New Year’s Day to evaluate their failings and to make resolutions. In a similar vein, I use Thanksgiving to update my ever-changing theology of prayer before meals.

I’ve long been an observer of the premeal prayer habits of people across the theological spectrum. I’ve seen the inconsistencies—a preprayer nibble on a carrot and a sip of water is acceptable, but stay away from the salad and the baked potato until they get blessed.

I’ve seen the variety, too. There are some who never pray before meals except at Thanksgiving. Even then the lot usually falls to children aged eight and under who still think the old “God is great, God is good …” is a pretty nifty turn of phrase. And then there are those at the other extreme who pray not only before every meal, but before popcorn or a candy bar; in short, prior to any oral ingestion of an edible substance, with the possible exception of liverwurst. Let’s face it: it’s hard to be genuinely thankful for liverwurst.

I’ve also witnessed variety in prayer length. I’ve heard four-word prayers: “Dear Lord, Thanks. Amen.” (He was hungry.) And I’ve heard prayers that were so long the food had to be reheated. When they brought it back, the guy thought it should be re-blessed. (He didn’t trust microwaves.)

I guess, like most people, I fall somewhere between the extremes. On the one hand, I realize that praying is important. But I just can’t bring myself to go to God before sitting down to a Pop-Tart, especially at 6 A.M. when there is nobody around to appreciate my spirituality. So where do I draw the line?

To pray or not pray? And how to pray? These are the questions. Should I pray as long over a hot dog as I would over steak? Do I have to close my eyes if it’s ...

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