Opinion Column

Thank you for the food we eat

By Rev. Eric Strachan

Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you God for everything.

 

E. RUTTER LEATHAM

It was one of those unforgettable boy moments, the kind that leave an indelible imprint on a little kid’s mind. As a youngster growing up in Scotland my family and I had been invited to our relative’s home in the country. We sat down at the dinner table and I picked up my fork and knife and was about to get ‘stuck in’ as the Scots would say, when the male host said, “Let’s pray and give thanks.” My fork, already filled with a dollop of mashed potatoes, stalled momentarily in midair somewhere between the plate and my mouth. As a little kid I had never known an awkward moment like that. It was different.

In our house the moment my mother served dinner we all got ‘stuck in’, there were no spiritual preliminaries, no pausing to give thanks. My mother went to church but my dad wasn’t a religious man, to pause before a meal and express gratitude to the Creator was completely foreign to me. That day in the town of Carluke in Scotland I looked around and saw the heads of our hosts reverently bowed. My dad and mom and my sister had followed suit, so quietly putting down my potato-laden fork on the china plate, I bowed my head and clasped my hands. I don’t recall what was said by our host that day as he prayed, but I do know that for me this experience at the dinner table was a brand new one, and as I listened something within me that I could not explain seemed to confirm that giving thanks to God at such times was the honorable and appropriate thing to do.

Seventy-years down the line, now in Canada, the pre-dinner ritual in our house is to give thanks, and if ever there was a day to be filled with gratitude as Canadians it must be today. Famine grips many countries of our world and leaves behind it a trail of death and devastation, but here in our nation we have food in abundance. I experienced the dramatic contrast the other day. Here I was with a big slice of delicious pizza in my hand watching television when suddenly a UNICEF ad comes on and before I know it I’m staring at a mom holding the skeletal frame of her starving child in a famine stricken country. I experienced a surge of mixed emotions, sorrow, tears and guilt. Suddenly the pizza didn’t taste so good.

It was 60 years ago on Jan. 1, 1957 that our government unanimously declared the second Monday in October to be “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Time often has the tendency to erode some long standing meaningful traditions, 60 years ago in the days of Louis St. Laurent and John Diefenbaker there was a God-consciousness in the land, a national belief, if not held by all, then held by most that a sovereign God was the provider of all that was good in Canada. Even with the official adoption of “O Canada” in 1980 as our

national anthem the words “God keep our land” affirmed that our existence and well being as a nation hinged on our relationship with God, the Provider of all things. But more than half century after the adoption of a national day of thanksgiving, now in the post-Christian era, the God who has dominion over this land will all but be forgotten in many family gatherings. Dinning room tables this weekend will be laden in many contexts with turkeys and all the trimmings and food galore, there will laughter and fun as the kids come home from college and university, for many there will be ‘seconds’ and for a lot of us there will inevitably be the verbal outburst accompanied with our hands on our abdomen and the smiling grimace on the face, “Oh boy, am I ever full up!”

Somewhere, at some table, someone may give thanks, and some fresh-faced little boy or girl may chime in with the ancient children’s prayer, “Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you God for everything!” I wish I could have prayed that prayer as a little boy back then in the 1940s, but I didn’t know how. What I did hear that day at that table after I had quietly laid my potato-filled fork on the china plate was a man thank God for the meal before us, and as a little kindergarten kid who didn’t know much about God or spiritual things, or anything for that matter, I knew, I just knew, that it sounded like…it was the right thing to do.