Marty and I both grew up in church-going, God-believing homes. Neither of us grew in God-fearing ways, but in God-loving, gratitude ways. Growing up we always, always said grace; we always said a short prayer before eating. It was the same for Marty and it’s how we raised our children. Someone at our table said a prayer of thanks for God’s food and God’s grace at each meal.
As the kids grew out of the house the concept of prayer at dinner time flew out with the kids. Certainly after Marty’s strokes grace at meal time just kind of vanished, a casualty of busy minds, busy mouths and the distraction of helping Marty eat.
A big holiday meal, meals with our whole family is still graced with prayer, though. Its part of the ritual, its part of our tradition and a means of bringing our family closer together as someone prays blessings on all and gives thanks. I don’t see it as particularly sacred; I see it as a way of remembering our humanity and our relationship to something greater than ourselves.
This year we had a pretty toned down Thanksgiving as my sister and her family was off giving thanks at her husband’s parents and our kids were doing the same with their respective in-laws. So there we were the grouchy old man and his frail, disabled wife all alone.
No, not really. We recruited my parents and brother and they came down for a Thanksgiving dinner at our house at the lake. Since we were out our house, I’m the prayer boss, I either get to pray or designate someone as the prayer deliverer.
As I am bringing Marty from her bedroom to the dinner table I asked her if she felt like offering the prayer. This is not without precedent, she has done this before and she likes being intimately involved in the whole process and I think it makes her feel in touch with the family and our families traditions. She has been pretty talkative of late and I thought she might enjoy this rather low pressure way of standing out in our happy little group. She was just fine with having a chat with God.
I pushed Marty’s wheelchair to the table and we all gathered round, reached out and grabbed hands. Since I was on Marty’s left side and she can’t move her left arm at all I very simply rested my hand on her shoulder, looked at her, gave her a gentle shoulder squeeze for assurance and told our small gathering Marty would offer grace.
I squeezed Marty’s shoulder again and said, “Go ahead Marty, you can start now.”
Marty takes a breath and starts to pray, “Dear God,” she pauses then loudly says, “Hello.”
Never one to close my eyes during prayer in case some fun might break out, I peaked at Marty and she was looking straight ahead and smiling ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. It was clear the “hello” was not inadvertent, it was my Marty, the Marty I married saying to God in her casual unpretentious way saying, “Hello, we’re here and we’re ready for a chat with you.”
I waited, we all waited for seconds with Marty snickering and me smiling and stifling a laugh when she continues, “hello God, it’s been a while, it’s been a long time between meal prayers.”
I mumble to myself, “Thank you Marty for pointing out my spiritual failings and lack of religious discipline at our table, I’m sure God appreciates the recognition.”
At this point she could no longer contain herself and she started chuckling, then laughing at her prayer. I couldn’t really help but laugh too as everyone else around the circle kept their heads bound and laughed to themselves.
I prodded Marty just a bit and kind of gently hissed, “Finish it.”
“Thank you God for these people and this food, in Jesus name we pray, Amen,” came out of Marty’s mouth as she continued laughing and smiling. Through her laughter she says, “Goofy prayer.”
I said, “No, it’s perfect, I will always remember, Dear God, Hello.” And we all laughed some more.
It was a small, somewhat non-descript Thanksgiving meal. It had all of the requisite food items, turkey, dressing, potatoes, gravy, peas and some killer chocolate brownies. We shared the meal with people we love and the best part is we said hello to God in a way that exemplified nothing but comfort and realized gratitude. I think God answered with a smile and a laugh.