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The God Squad: Praying together helps all faiths

October 08, 2010|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Editor's note: Starting Saturday, the Daily Pilot will regularly publish The God Squad column by Rabbi Marc Gellman, who offers practical answers to questions about religion, faith and spirituality. "In Theory" will continue to be published on occasional Saturdays. Be sure to catch the Pilot's new "On Faith" column, which appears on the Sunday Forum page.

Q: I'm a Jewish woman and wonder if you can suggest something meaningful I can do when sitting next to a Christian silently saying grace before a meal. A Catholic friend crosses himself after grace. So far, I just remain silent and bow my head a little. I'm accustomed to Christian friends joining hands and collectively saying grace, but I'd never saw anyone say grace individually until I moved from the North to the South. Perhaps this is a Southern tradition. — J., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

A: I think you're doing the right thing, but you could do more. Bowing your head is a respectful act, but you, too, should ask God's blessing on your meal. The idea of saying grace before meals is a way of inserting a measure of spiritual gratitude into our lives; none of us should take our food for granted.

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My longtime partner on The God Squad, Father Tom Hartman (thank you all for your prayers for him; he has good days and bad days with Parkinson's disease, but his spirits remain strong), once knew a rich man with a strange habit.

Tommy told me he was once invited to dinner at the man's mansion. It was just the two of them at a huge dinner table in the formal dining room. The butler brought the host a dinner roll on a silver plate as the first course. The man took the roll, smelled it, pulled it apart, slowly and silently caressed it, and then ate it. Tommy asked the man why he did this and he responded: "I'm surrounded by luxuries and it's easy to take them for granted. If I can stop and try to fully appreciate and be grateful for something as simple as bread, then I know I won't fail to appreciate all the higher blessings in my life."

If we can all ask blessings for our bread, we can ask blessings for everything else. So, I'd suggest you offer to say grace the next time you eat with your Catholic friend. The Jewish blessing, which I believe to be spiritually congenial to people of all faiths, is simple: "You are blessed, O Lord our God, who brings forth bread from the earth."

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