For this Thursday’s edition of the Stockton Record, I was asked by a reporter how to say grace at a Thanksgiving meal. Having to respond got me thinking: how should a Thanksgiving Day prayer go? Very often, they’re completely awkward – think the Griswold Family at Christmas saying the Pledge of Allegiance. But, the Thanksgiving prayer doesn’t have to be awkward. What it should be is sincere. So, I offer five tips for your Thanksgiving Dinner prayers:
1) Don’t cater to the common denominator. We all know that, from time to time, there will be a guest at the table who doesn’t share our faith. Rather than praying in a manner that would make them comfortable, simply pray with sincerity, from the heart. Think of it as writing a personal letter to God on the fly, thanking Him for His blessings. The benefit is that no one can be offended by a sincere prayer. More importantly – it keeps in mind that the audience of our prayers is God Himself.
2) Involve Others. One of the best of Thanksgiving traditions is to go around the table and ask people to talk about the things that have made them thankful in the previous year. I would offer one more suggestion – a blessing for the meal which includes versicles and responses:
V: The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord, R: and thou givest them their meat in due season. V: Thou openest thine hand R: and fillest every living thing with blessing.
Bless us, O Lord and these the gifts which of thy bounty we are about to receive; through Christ our Lord. Amen
3) Sing Together. There are wonderful hymns of thanksgiving you can sing together. The tunes are very easy, and the words are splendid. Examples from the 1982 Hymnal include: #135, #410, #411, and #437. Here’s an excerpt from Hymn #411, St. Thomas:
“Then bless his holy Name,
whose grace hath made thee whole,
whose loving kindness crowns thy days:
O bless the Lord, my soul.”
4) Tell A Story. Story is often left out of Thanksgiving celebrations, and there’s no reason for it. Before the time for blessing the food, someone should tell the family story. The matriarch or the patriarch should, as the Turkey is carved or the wine is poured, tell a story that includes: how Mom and Dad met, the story of their engagement, the stories of how all the kids were born, how they found the house they’re living in, the story of a tough year when money was short or the business wasn’t doing well, the story of newcomers being welcomed and even about the funny things that happened in Thanksgivings past. Telling stories is an essential part to prayer.
5) Remember the Dead. Don’t forget to give thanks to God for the people who have been a crucial part of your lives and who are no longer with you. Remember them at the meal, and pray for them. For many people, Thanksgiving begins a season which isn’t so merry as it once was. Give them the opportunity to thank God for good wives and husbands, friends, and children who can’t sit at the table with them.