I’d stumbled along as an atheist who prayed (in periodic confusion and glory) for at least a decade before I bumped into the Rev. Kate Braestrup’s book, Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life. It was her book that prompted me to do a cannonball into the depths or prayer about five years ago.
That led to the third spiritual principle I created for myself:
I believe in prayer and embrace the human ability to bless and transform the world with prayer.
I bumped into Braestrup’s book by accident on the new book shelf of my local library. Her first, simple version of grace struck me right between the eyes. One Thanksgiving before she was a minister, Braestrup offered to say grace and then “realized too late that I didn’t know any graces. So I made one up on the spot.” Here’s her grace:
We are thankful for the food
And for the hands that prepared it
And for our family and for our friends.
Reading this I got an immediate sense of the sacredness of the moment. Are we not all thankful for our food and for the people who prepared it, even when we’re eating take-out? And we are certainly thankful for our friends and family who join us at the table, at least I am. Commemorating those joys is well worth doing. Acknowledging our gratitude helps us become aware of the moment and to open our hearts to it. At the very least, that acknowledgment kicks us out of our obsessive brains that chatter incessantly about work, money, cars, lovers, problems.
Although Braestrup cites Christian prayers in her book, she also quotes other prayers. Here’s another grace I particularly like. The author is anonymous.
For the food before us.
And the friends beside us
And the love that surrounds us
We are truly grateful
I adore this, especially the line about being grateful for “the love that surrounds us.”
I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the sacred, those snatched instants when we know we are in the presence of good. It permeates us at those moments. Sometimes it’s watching our sons hit a plastic ball with a bat on their first swing, or play the trumpet in their first concert, or grow up and take their lives into their hands and move thousands of miles away to live an adventure. Other times it’s an intense conversation with a friend where we push each other to be better. On other days, it’s a song-induced connection between mother and daughter, or the sunset shattering red over a lake. Prayer helps us acknowledge and know, and for that, I feel blessed.
An early version of this post was published in 2010.
A NOTE ON THE PHOTO: The fantastic Michael Baird shot this one.