Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
We say grace.
Here in the Bible Belt, rarely a meal starts without someone saying grace — a prayer of devotion and gratitude — before the family dives in. We give thanks for the nourishment of our bodies and souls. We give thanks for the blessing of another day. We give thanks for family and friends.
Grace can take many forms. As children, we recited the singsongy:
God is great.
God is good.
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed.
Thank you, Lord, for daily bread.
As smart-aleck teenagers, we raced through with:
Good bread. Good meat.
Good God, let’s eat.
My Episcopalian family tended to stick with the semistaid:
Bless this food to our use and us to
And make us ever mindful of
the needs of others.
I always thought that was especially nice since it included a sentiment of personal growth and good works.
Depending on who was chosen to say grace, we might also use the equally formal:
Bless us, oh Lord, and these Thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive
from Thy bounty
Through Christ, our Lord.
Or Daddy’s favorite:
Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be,
And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.
Other religions seemed to always ad lib — what a friend of mine called the “Jesus weejus” prayer:
Jesus, we just gather here today …
Jesus, we just want to thank you for …
Jesus, we just want to ask you …
You get the idea.
However it plays out, the act of saying grace traditionally and faithfully, no matter your religion, brings great focus to a family meal and connects everyone in a quiet moment of contemplation before the chaos of life continues around the table. There is great humility in the recognition of a higher power and the realization that the world is greater than what’s outside our front door. And in a society so focused on getting and having, the very act of giving thanks reminds us that we should appreciate how fortunate we are and help those who are less so.
I knew people growing up who never said grace. It seemed very odd to me to sit down at the table and just start serving your plate. Rude, even. I also remember dinners on the church grounds, homecomings, and family reunions where the prayers would carry on so long I thought I might die of starvation before the blessing ever ended. In either case, whether it’s so short you barely get your eyes closed or so long you wind up peeking to see who’s sneaking a biscuit, grace always ends with a rousing “Amen!”
Unless you are Uncle Red.
Whenever the designated sayer of grace would finish in the traditional manner, Uncle Red would wink at me and continue on with:
Amen! Brother Ben
Shot a rooster. Killed a hen.
And all went home satisfied.
And only then it was time to eat.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.