Bless us, O Lord

“Bless us, O Lord.”

His eyes are bright and smiling, staring directly at me. Hands are clasped together, and held high in front of him. Dinner sits hot in front of us, the steam rising along with our prayer. Heads are not bowed, eyes are not closed. Instead they stare at the little ones. One says the words, the other bobs his head along to the rhythm.

“And these thy gifts,”

He speaks slowly and carefully, in a way I do not. I pray while motioning for my husband to grab the ketchup. I pray while falling asleep. I pray when I stare at their sleeping faces, unable to conjure words and pleading hope instead. I have said these words ten thousand times, over holiday feasts and bowls of ramen noodles. I have said them awkwardly in restaurants; I have said them with my mouth full of food.

I am not sure if he knows what we are doing. Why we gather nightly to speak some words in concert, but he knows that we do. The rhythm of the words beats inside of him. Understanding is not necessary.

“Which we are about to receive,”

I wonder if it is possible to be thankful for something you’ve never been without. This table has never lacked food, the way so many others have. It has never lacked companions or warmth. It has been covered in bills that were able to be paid. We have never been without, and I know our gratitude is inadequate. His mouth wraps around adult words he does not understand. Mine does as well.

“From thy bounty,”

My youngest now says “pray!” whenever he sees food he wants to eat. He asks, and he receives. He one day will learn that he doesn’t need to pray in order to eat, and that there are those who pray and still go without.

The blessings we have been given are not for us to keep. The gifts which grace our table are not here to remain.

“Through Christ, our Lord,”

The oldest spreads his hands wide,  prepared to clap when we say “Amen.” It is how he first learned to pray. As a baby, he saw us hold our hands together and assumed we were clapping. He now says the words, most of the words, at something close to their actual pronunciation. Next will come the understanding of the words. And then the forgetting of the meaning, as the mundane rhythm of daily life drowns it out.

And then the remembering.

The boys smile and bounce in their chairs, proud of the task they have just finished. The words are the easy part, I long to tell them. It is the living that will be harder for me to teach you.

The room is warm as we pass the bread around. They will learn eventually, I think. Here is where it will start.

“Amen.”

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