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Thanksgiving, saying grace, and “dominion” over other lives

November 28th, 2013 · Posted by Hugo · No Comments

Today is Thanksgiving in America. From what I read, this holiday is also celebrated in a secular manner, though it has its roots in religious and cultural traditions.

I think this aspect of our traditions is beautiful and valuable. Similarly I have wondered about the benefits of the tradition of “saying grace” at every mealtime. It is a practice that could train our perspectives towards being more thankful of what we have in life, in contrast with having some “sense of entitlement” and being critical when things aren’t exactly the way you want them.

Permit me to quote the entire intro section of Wikipedia’s entry on Grace (prayer), because each paragraph had something useful in it, in the context of what I’m aiming for with this post:

Grace is a name for any of a number of short prayers said or an unvoiced intention held prior to or after eating, thanking God and/or the entities that have given of themselves to furnish nutrients to those partaking in the meal. Some traditions hold that grace and thanksgiving imparts a blessing which sanctifies the meal. In the English language tradition, reciting a prayer prior to eating is traditionally referred to as “saying grace”.

A prayer of Grace is said to be an act of offering thanks to God for granting humans dominion over the earth, and the right and ability to sacrifice the lives of divine creations for sustenance; this thanks is the “saying of Grace” prior to and/or after eating of any meal.

However, in many indigenous cultures around the world, including North America, the saying of grace does not signify human dominion, but rather recognition of a plant or animal’s giving their life and that some day the prayer giver, like every sentient being, will return to earth to give sustenance and life to others.
If one is not religious and the rest of the table is saying grace, it is considered polite and culturally appropriate to observe silently, or to bow one’s head. It is often considered impolite or incorrect to start eating before grace has been said and completed.

The saying of grace entered into English language Judeo-Christian cultures with the Jewish mealtime prayer Birkat Hamazon, though any number of cultures may have informed the practice, or it may have arisen spontaneously by individuals and then perpetuated by family traditions and social institutions.

I wonder: does the meme of “dominion” reduce a person’s sense of gratefulness? I think it could, but it might not — given a theistic worldview, a mind could hold a sense of dominion over “creation” while being very much thankful towards a “creator”, thus still producing the benefits of the mental discipline of thankfulness.

The non-dominion perspective is more appealing to me: I think it can lead to higher awareness of what we have, and of the impact of our lives. As the human population grows, this is an increasingly more important awareness to foster: better awareness of the origins of our food, and the impact of our culture and culinary habits.

The bigger picture, like other knowledge, is a tool that can be used for good or bad: on the theme of thankfulness, the bigger picture can be a source of much more to be thankful for.

Categories: Lifestances
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