When I was growing up, we always said grace at the dinner table. Dad cooked on the nights Mom worked late, and I hated it when we couldn’t all be there together for the meal because it didn’t quite feel like family, but on the nights when we were all gathered together– joy and peace– it felt whole.
When my little brother or I said grace, it was sometimes an original in the style of our parents; sometimes a rote “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food”; and sometimes, when we’d scarfed the gifts in front of us and forgotten grace entirely, we prayed, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for what we ate,” and we laughed at our own silliness, which was a way of grace itself. When Dad said grace, it was simple, and it laid bare his vulnerability, and he often bequeathed his turn to Mom. And when Mom said grace, her words were graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer poured out gratefulness, hope, and trust. I heard her grace, and she taught me.
My mom still teaches, and these days she does her work at a high school. She helps her Spanish class students to open up language, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to each other; and she leads them in daily prayer, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God. But when she brings her students to Holy Communion, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God and each other, she is not welcome at the table. She loves her school and they love her, but she is one sort of Christian and they are another, and their sort holds closed communion, so her sort sits out.
But Mom says grace. She kneels in the pew while her students receive, and she prays they will get fed with more than wafers and wine. She stays away from the man-made altar, and as she abides the rules that grieve her, she lifts up offerings from the ramshackle altar of her own heart. And while she is asked not to gather at the table with those who ought be and are family, she remains graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer pours out gratefulness, hope, and trust. And I hear her grace, and she teaches me.