Seasoned with Grace
Published on November 19-20, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
I honestly cannot remember being taught by my family to say grace before or after meals. It was not because my family is not religious; they are more devout than most others in our barangay. But, I have noticed that grace before and after meals is not part of “the way we do things.” That, of course, does not mean that we are in any way less grateful for God’s gifts. We just have a strange way of showing it.
The well-mannered of the West would find it quite offensive that, not only do we not say grace, my family allows—nay, encourages—burping during a meal. Burping, I was told by my late aunt Victoria, is natural; it is the body’s response to an appetite that is satisfied, to a stomach that is full. Some of the cooks in my family even look forward to hearing burps from around the table. Somehow they regard them to be the sound of appreciation for a well-cooked meal, the sign that it was a truly gratifying feast. In much the same way, the cooks take note when people slurp their soup (a sign of appreciation for a soup so tasty that people would not wait for it to cool down) or when they put away the silver and start eating with their hands (because the food is that ‘finger-licking’ good).
I hope that people do not start thinking that our family meals are but symphonies of those sounds that would make every courteous man cringe. The truth is that every burp from the table is followed by a prayer “Salamat pu, Mal na Apu!” (literally, “Thank you, precious Lord!”) said by the person himself or by the rest of the family. Every sign of satisfaction then is attributed to God; every burp is a reminder to give Him thanks. I realize that this is a very unconventional path to prayer. Yet, somehow, it works for my family. Although we do not use it as the bookends for every meal, grace is what seasons our food.
I have since learned to say grace before and after a meal. I have learned to control myself from slurping my soup and from burping at the table. But, sometimes, just for old time’s sake, I let out a quick “Salamat pu, Mal na Apu!” There is something to be said about thanking God while I am enjoying His blessings. It reminds me, especially when I am eating alone, that the food that I am relishing is not just something given by God; it is something that He shares with me. Something that is given might have been left for me to enjoy. But, something that is shared signifies some sort of company, a presence that sits with me at the table. God then is not just a waiter whom I thank when He brings me my plate or a busboy whom I acknowledge after I have had my fill. He gets to be the One who sits right next to me during the meal, the One whom I thank for making each bite pleasant and possible.
I realize now that I do not need to wait for a burp to express my gratitude to God for my daily bread. But, I think that it is also good for me to know, if ever I slipped into my unrefined manners and let one out, that He would not mind it at all.