Why I Started Saying Grace Even Though I’m Not the Least Bit Religious

Finding meaning in a ritual that seemed meaningless for decades

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Expressing gratitude is a way to tell the universe, “I’m in a place of abundance and I’m wide open to receiving more.” I can tell you from recent personal experience, the more you tell the universe who you are and what you deserve to have, the more will come your way.

On the first day of 2021, an encounter with friends taught me the value of a ritual I had taken for granted my entire life: Saying grace, giving thanks for the food you are about to eat before you dine. I had said grace over food maybe a few times in my life previously when I had been over at people’s houses and wanted to fit in. January 1, 2021, however, was the first time I said grace and really meant it.

Today I will share with you the story of how saying grace came to have meaning to me.

I grew up in the Episcopal church in the 1970s and 1980s. An independent child, at a very young age I began to question the value of church and Sunday school. “They want me to build a personal relationship with God,” I thought. “But they all sing the same hymns. They all read from the same prayer book. The message seems to be, do what everyone else does.”

We didn’t say grace growing up — Episcopalians, at least the ones I grew up with, are not a super-observant bunch. They don’t care if you don’t say grace; they don’t mind if you fail to show up for Wednesday night fellowship. They’re just happy you made it to church at all.

Occasionally we’d eat out, and I’d see families pray before eating. My mom explained they were from other branches of the church that were stricter than ours. As I mentioned, when I had dinner at friends’ houses I’d go along and say grace with their families. It didn’t mean much to me, though. It seemed to be just another of those “find God by doing what everyone else does” rituals that made little sense.

When I was 12, I took a set of classes and was confirmed as a member of the church. I was now eligible to take communion and take Sunday school classes with the adults. A few weeks after confirmation, I asked, “Mama, now that I’m confirmed, that means I’m an adult in the eyes of the church, right?”

“Yes, Paul, that’s what it means,” she replied.

“So I can make my own decisions regarding religious matters now?” I asked.

“Yes, you can,” she said.

“Okay,” I told her. “Then I’ve made a decision that I don’t want to go to church anymore.”

My mom agreed it was my decision to make. Really, I think she was a bit relieved. Although she had a strong belief in God, she wasn’t super-religious herself. She felt as though she had done her duty as a mother in a southern U.S. state to give her son an upbringing in the church, but now her duty was over. She could reclaim Sunday mornings for the newspaper, late breakfasts, and old movies on broadcast TV.

The event that made me realize what saying grace is all about

2020 wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but two good tidings came my way the latter half of the year: I became a professional writer, and I started a gratitude practice.

I’ve written about my gratitude practice before. I have a quick technique I do in the middle of the night between sleep cycles, and I have one I do in the morning right before I get out of bed. I also have additional practices I do throughout the day to remind me that my spirit and the universe send me exactly the right people and situations in every moment, throughout the day.

As for my writing practice, my problem has been consistency. I made a commitment to write every day starting the week after Thanksgiving, but a friend’s death threw me into a creative funk for a while. By the end of December I was feeling the writing bug again and…

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day 2021 was the first day of a 3-day weekend, and I intended to spend all of it writing. I got up around 5 AM (following my morning gratitude practice) and went to my laptop and I was ready to roll… but… I also wanted some blackeyed peas and collard greens.

For those who don’t know, it’s a tradition in the Southern part of the United States to eat those foods on New Year’s Day. They are said to bring prosperity, with the blackeyed peas representing coins and the greens representing paper money. People often eat cornbread along with them, representing gold.

The trouble is, I didn’t have those foods on hand, and besides, I don’t cook. My friend’s bar down the street, opening at 10 a.m., would have those on special, so I could go get my good luck if I wanted. However, my friend’s bar had something else on hand as well — beer, which I knew would spell an end to my writing day.

I did my morning post on my Downtown Memphis local blog, rattling off 6 or 7 paragraphs of news, then mentioning my plan to stay home and write that day… but… I wouldn’t be opposed to getting out for some blackeyed peas and collards. I was practically begging my readers/friends to text me and say, “We’re going to the bar too! Come join!”

Then I did another gratitude session, thanking the universe that there really was no worst-case scenario. I’d either spend the day writing, or I’d have great food with great friends. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I said.

The text

About 8 a.m. I did indeed get a text. It was from my friends Dennis and MaryPat. They own a condo a couple of blocks down the street from me. “Paul!” they wrote. “We saw your blog post. We made a batch of blackeyed peas and collard greens this morning, and we have plenty extra. They’re piping hot. Would you like to meet us in front of our condo in 10 minutes, and we’ll give you some to take home?”

I made the trek down there and they gave me two hefty containers. The peas and greens were delicious, perfectly seasoned with fatback the way we do ’em in the South. Now I had my good luck, and I had the rest of the day to write. As a bonus, I got a reminder of what awesome friends I have — and I spent a grand total of zero! If I’d gone to the bar, I’d probably have run up a $30 tab.

Saying grace, revisited

As I laid the food out in front of me, for the first time in many years, I felt the desire to say grace. And I did.

Blackeyed peas and collard greens. My writing assistant, who likes foods the same color as her hair, was eyeing the greens.

I thanked God, the universe, and my soul — the part of God that is my connection to the universe — for the food. However, the food itself wasn’t the main point.

I thanked God, the universe, and my soul for my awesome friends who gave me the food — but even they weren’t the main point.

I thanked God, the universe, and my soul that I had drawn exactly the right people and the right situation to me that morning. I didn’t think it was possible to have my peas and greens and also have the entire day to write. The universe proved that abundance beyond my wildest ideas was indeed possible.

That was the main point.

“The more gratefully we fix our minds on the Supreme when good things come to us, the more good things we will receive, and the more rapidly they will come; and the reason simply is that the mental attitude of gratitude draws the mind into closer touch with the source from which the blessings come.” — Wallace D. Wattles

Since then, I’ve said grace at every meal. Every meal is a reminder of abundance. Whether it’s a three-course, white-tablecloth dinner or a can of Spaghetti-Os, every meal is a reminder that abundance beyond my wildest dreams is not only possible, but it’s already coming my way.

I invite you to give it a try and see if you get similar results.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here are my previous stories about gratitude practices:

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Beliefs | Intuition | Dreams | Journaling | Connector | Inspirer | Former College Teacher | https://www.buymeacoffee.com/paulryburn Twitter: @paulryburn

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