Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meal-time Blessings

Around the world and across all cultures, except perhaps the Americanized world, food is considered sacred. The recognition of the miracle of life, the sacrifice of the plants and animals that sustain us and sheer reverant joy and gratitude for receiving nourishing food inspires many traditions of prayer, singing, reflection and blessings offered at meals.

Most Americans are familiar with the concept of the Christian meal-time prayer, or saying Grace. In the same appreciative tone are the meal-time verses commonly chanted in Hindu homes, that recognize the oneness of all life.

Yogis and certainly those living in an ashram setting, will join hands and bless the food by joining voices in mantra chanting. Often they will chant names of the Divine or words of peace and love to consecrate the food.

There is a whole formal meditation practice surrounding meal-times in Buddhism. In Buddhism, food is accepted as a great gift. It is looked at as being created and brought together collaboritively by the whole universe, by the inter-existence of all phenomena. In appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice of so many, the practitioner vows to be worthy, and to do his or her best to become enlightened for the sake of all beings. There are verses for contemplating the food, and symbolic assosciations with first few bites. There are also verses at the end of the meal. Some monasteries and practice centers have very formal meal-time practices, uniform step-by-step, making the entire meal into spiritual practice.

Nowadays, with ecclectic spiritual practices becoming more common, many families are creating their own meal-time blessings. Some take the form of "Grace", and change the words to make them more personal. Some prefer silent contemplation. A combination of silent contemplation and a simple word or phrase, such as the Japanese custom of saying "itadakimasu", (I receive this) to start the meal. Many families offer the light of a candle to make meal-times stand out as a special experience to be shared in mindfulness with loved ones.

The purpose of blessing or consecrating meals, besides the conveyence of overall gratitude and reverence, is to bring us into the moment. In presence we can appreciate every morsel of food. When we are mindful, we won't overeat. We will chew slowly and savor our meal. We will digest better.

With the blessing we step out of a mundane mind-set and into a deep awareness of the sacredness of every moment. We imbue our food with the uplifting energy of presence. We make the act of eating physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually nourishing.

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