Professor's House

Respecting Others Spiritual Beliefs at the Table

Do you pray before a meal?

What happens when you are a guest in someone’s home for dinner and just before eating, they bow their head and pray at the table – something that you don’t normally do? Do you bow with them; kind of bow and see who has their eyes closed… or just start planning your move on the scalloped potatoes to your left? When you invite those same friends over to your house… where you NEVER pray, what should be done? Ask them to say grace… or eat without praying?

The best way to deal with this problem about social etiquette is to follow the advice of “When in Rome do as the Romans!” If you are in someone else’s home, it is only polite and courteous and a good show of manners to follow their rules. Just as when they are in your home, they should respect the way that you do things. Respecting others spiritual beliefs at the table and otherwise is a huge responsibility of humanity. The truth is that whether you go to a different country, or simply to a different home on the same street as yours – religious beliefs and practices will be differing. And it is not in anyone’s best interest to decide what should or should not be done when it comes to faith based practices. In other words, every family and person has to make up their own minds about what is right and wrong and act accordingly while remaining patient and accepting of others alternate beliefs.

Still, the matter of praying at meals can cause a great deal of conflict or discomfort before a meal. If your family never prays and you have guests over that you do, they should feel welcome to follow their prayer ritual in their mind without forcing the participation of their host family. And if you are somewhere else, you should do the same. Just because everyone else is praying before the meal doesn’t mean that you have to recite the Catholic version of Grace. Instead sit politely and wait for them to be finished. It really is as simple as that.

The issue of course can become more clouded when kids are involved. If your daughter’s best friend, who is 7 years old, is eating with you and asks you why you don’t pray before a meal – you have to simply explain that your family doesn’t normally do that. But you should also welcome the child to follow their own belief. (This way they don’t go home and tell his or her parents that you are Satan worshippers, thus ending the friendship between your daughter and her friend). And, you should take time to explain to your own children that all people have a different way of saying thanks, and a different meal ritual in their own home. Your children also shouldn’t be forced to pray or practice religious beliefs outside of their own when they are in the homes of others.

It is interesting to discover just how many people today sit down and say Grace, or some version of thanks prior to eating. In ancient times, meal tables and food were blessed often by clergy members before eating and the act of saying Thanks erupted from Pagan (non-Christian) beliefs that thanked the Earth for the harvest. Much like today’s celebratory Thanksgiving celebration. In a recent Gallup poll about how many people pray before meals it was found that around 31% of all households pray or say some version of thank you before eating a meal together on a regular basis. Around 23% said a prayer before dinner ‘sometimes’ or at least once a week and around 29% admitted to NEVER praying or practicing religious beliefs at the table prior to meal time. During holiday celebrations, the number of people who admit to pre-dinner prayer jumps to around 84%. The poll also revealed that more than half of all people have participated in a pre-meal prayer routine that does not follow their own religious belief in order to appear to have manners and respect others around them.

The manner of prayer at the table is bound to be one of those things that make others uncomfortable. Surely, you have been to a restaurant and seen a lone patron praying excessively before their meal in public. Or, you may know a family that is so concerned about tearing apart the hamburgers and fries that you are praying for your own safety from stray knives and forks rather than thinking about a meal blessing. The bottom line is that we have to respect the spiritual beliefs of others, as long as they spiritual beliefs do not force or expect us to be compliant. If your mother in law wants to pray at your house before a meal – and you don’t want to, then you shouldn’t be led by guilt into a pre-dinner blessing. This is what makes our own personal beliefs so beautiful. They come from us, and they don’t have to be explained to others or justified.

Every culture, and every family has their own meal time rituals. Meal times together as a family should be about closeness and communication and doing what makes everybody feel comfortable. Plus, the good thing about prayer is it can be done quietly within the confines of your own mind, meaning that you can always respect your spiritual beliefs of praying before a meal despite the company you keep. And those that don’t pray before a meal can use the moment of silence to plot their dibs at the most delicious food on the table.

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