Saying Grace: Staying True to Who You Both Are

By Kathleen Ehrlich

It isn’t all Norman Rockwell, but it can be all wonderful.

Kathleen Ehrlich and her husband Steven have been married for 11 years.  They come from rich cultural and religious backgrounds: Kathleen is Catholic and Steven is Jewish. She shares with us how she navigates her family’s deeply meaningful tradition of saying grace in a way that includes Steven, and how they have created a new tradition from deep roots.

In my family we join hands and say Grace before every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner. As Roman Catholics, we almost always use a slight variation on the standard:

“Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts that we are about to receive, through your goodness, Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

When we were little, my mother swapped out the original phrase ‘through thy bounty’ for ‘through your goodness’ because she thought ‘goodness’ would be an easier concept for kids to understand.

Sometimes we add special intentions at the end of our grace. Once in a while we freestyle the whole thing. But this simple prayer is such a basic element of family life that one year on Christmas morning my sister broke into it out of habit, and, struck by how well it worked as a precursor to opening presents, we’ve made saying it an annual pre-stocking tradition, too.

When I got married, my parents thoughtfully suggested that our family grace needed another tweak so my Jewish husband didn’t have to mention Christ every time we sat down at their house for a sandwich. Now when my husband and I visit them, we all go straight from ‘goodness’ to ‘Amen.’

For many years, we didn’t say grace at all.

As in many situations where we have faced blending two religious traditions, it took my husband and me awhile to address the grace situation in our own home. For many years, we didn’t say grace at all. We ate breakfast in the car on the way to work, and, at the end of busy days at the office and a long commute home, we’d often just throw ourselves on the couch and have take out in front of the TV.

As time went on, I realized how much I missed the practice of taking a moment before a meal to reflect on our many blessings. I wanted grace back in my life, but in a way that recognized both of our faiths. After some thought, we struck on the idea of alternating on subsequent nights between my family’s gently revised Catholic Grace and the Jewish Shehecheyanu:

“Blessed are you, Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

I realize that we are taking liberties with our interpretation and use of both of these prayers, but, in my opinion, our intention of finding a way to incorporate a little bit more mindfulness and gratitude into our lives trumps the rules.

Amen.

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