Practicing with Children

Table Graces

By Sara Wolbrecht

“Hold or fold?”


The nightly question is asked of our 3-year-old daughter as the final chaotic moments of dinner-prep and table-setting end and we scoot out seats to the table for dinner.  This particular night she wipes her hair out of her eyes and clasps her hands together as she resolutely declares: “Fold!”  For our dinner-time prayer, June chooses whether our hands should grab hold of our neighbors to encircle our food or whether to hold our own hands as we pray.  “Can you start us, June?” my husband asks.  “Be–” begins her lovely little voice and our voices join hers: “–present at our table, Lord. Be here and every where adored; these mercies bless and grant that we may strengthened for they service be.  Ahhhhh- men.”

Though my husband and I both grew up with a spoken prayer before meal times (using “Come, Lord Jesus” as the nightly ritual) we unintentionally landed on singing the Doxology as our family prayer.  I am so thankful we did.  This blessing has been a blessing to us.  We have a daily time when we sing together—even briefly—as a family.  And much to the delight of our daughter, there is ample opportunity to invent new ways to place our hands – reaching to the sky with our finger tips dancing, palms pushed together and swimming like a fish.  The playful and the sacred meet when a three-year-old is at the table.

Two years ago my sister-in-law printed and framed the words of our prayer for us, offering it as a Christmas gift.  Brilliant!  It hangs on our dining room wall and is not only a reminder of the daily words we sing together but becomes the text (cheat sheet) available to guests so that they can join in our family’s prayer as they gather at our table.

I would not have thought to print out and frame the Doxology on my wall (even with the amount of time I spend on Pinterest).  Yet, this small gesture has provided access to a small piece of our family’s life, welcoming in our guests as they join us for a meal – especially our friends who are not Jesus-followers and for whom this prayer is unfamiliar.  Yes, some do opt not to sing, yet most join the singing when the words are accessible – and delight in June’s aptitude in knowing the notes and the words.

Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the dynamics of the table ring as true:

“The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another. When we say, “Take some more, let me serve you another plate, let me pour you another glass, don’t be shy, enjoy it,” we say a lot more than our words express. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us. We desire communion…Strange as it may sound, the table is the place where we want to become food for one another. Every breakfast, lunch, or dinner can become a time of growing communion with one another.” (Bread for the Journey)

It is vital that those who come to our table feel welcomed and for our family table rituals to be accessible; the little things become big things.

What prayer or ritual does your family hold for blessing the beginning of meal time?  Is it framable?  How else might your family find a grounding time at meal time and welcome others to the table?

Pastor Sara Wolbrecht is head of Care Ministry at a Lutheran church in the suburbs of San Francisco’s Bay Area, married to a musician, and mother to a 3yo daughter with a son due Easter Sunday 2014.


3 thoughts on “Table Graces

  1. Thanks, Sara! I like your description of the way eating with your three-year-old joins the playful to the sacred. When my older son was that age, we often held each other’s ears as we prayed, just for fun. What I liked best about that was that it always caused us to smile as we prayed.

    • Julia, I may have to subtly suggest to June that ear-holding would be a nice twist. What fun! And great observation — it is the smiling while praying that is so delightful.

  2. It is a very precious time to pray together as a family. We also routinely say “Come, Lord Jesus…..” as we gather to eat whether at home or out at a restaurant. I am thrilled that my grandson Zachary now prays aloud with us and so the tradition and faith continue on to a new generation. I like your idea of having a framed copy of your prayer near the table for guests to see and join in if desired.

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