Thursday, December 13, 2012

Saying Grace

I was never much for “saying grace” before meals.  It was a daily thing at dinner when I was growing up; my parents are very devout and traditional Catholics who continue the practice to this day.  I think that’s why I’ve never said grace very often of my own volition.

This is a shame, because giving thanks for one’s food is probably one of the most basic and meaningful forms of prayer one can offer.  Not to do so is downright churlish.  A stunning amount of work and sacrifice went into what’s on your plate in a web of inter-relationship.  For a pork chop, there was the farmer who raised the plants for the hog’s feed, the plants themselves, the farmer who raised the hog, and the hog itself who died to provide your meal.  This is leaving the people who in turn raised the oranges for the farmers’ breakfasts, or the people who built the tractors used to harvest the plants for the hog’s feed, etc.  Finally, there’s the person who bought and prepared the meal, even if that person is yourself.  Unless you grow and process all your own food, you can’t get away from the fact that you owe thanks to a lot of beings for making sure you had dinner last night.

We know that Thor’s hammer was used for blessing.  When Thor kills his goats so that he, Loki and a poor family can eat them, the hammer raises the goats back to life.  Evidence that this carried over into practiced is evidenced in this anecdote about Haakon the Good, on being presented with a drink:

“The king took it and made the sign of the cross over it. Then said Kar of Gryting, 'Wherefore does the king so? Will he even now not sacrifice?' Sigurd the Jarl answered, 'The king does as all do, who trust in their skill and strength; he blesses the bowl in the name of Thor, and makes the sign of the hammer over it before he drinks'.”

This little story tells us some rather important facts.  First, it tells us that there was a custom in existence of signing food and drink with the hammer.  Second, it tells us that this was done as part of a food or drink blessing.  Third, it points out a rather interesting distinction between a heathen who is performing a blessing over food and a Christian who is doing the same thing.  Christianity is notorious for attributing all good things to God alone, including one’s own deeds and virtues.  In contrast, blessing in the name of Thor is something done by those who trust in their skill and strength.   The partnership between humans and gods is based on mutual respect, and self-respect.  In recognizing our skills and strengths, we attract the blessing of Thor.  We do not humbly thank him for making us skillful and strong, then praise him for doing so.  Hail, Thor.

I’ve tried to remember to bless my food using the words of Havamal, verse 2: “Hail to the givers!  A guest has come.”  Among the givers I include all those mentioned in the second paragraph above.  I haven’t been very good at remembering to do this so far, but I’m going to start making the sign of the hammer as well.  Aside from Thor being a god for strong ones, he’s also one who blesses and waters the fields, so including him in the meal blessing is just simply the polite thing to do.

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