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A New Way to Say Grace: Paying Attention to the Present.

Lazarus Lynch explores how the small act of saying grace can bring us closer to the present, facilitating a stronger connection with ourselves and what is going on around us.

A portrait of Lazarus with his hair in braids. He is a Black man with dark eyes. He wears makeup in the corner of his eyes and a dark shirt with polkadots
Photo by Anisha Sisodia

“God is great! God is good! And we thank Him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.” This prayer I recited as a child before consuming each served meal. Saying grace was an acceptable form of prayer allowed in my non-religious primary school, a time to praise the Creator for the seeds, plants, flesh, bones, and skins that would soon nourish our bodies.

Saying grace was a gesture of humility, bowing our heads, closing our eyes, and offering gratitude for the hands of other human beings who transformed those raw ingredients into soul-satisfying meals. At those early and tender ages of childhood, I knew not the significance of saying grace. It was seemingly forced upon me by the adults in my life, an act we all participated in, and none resisted.

Saying grace was a practice that generated a heightened tummy-curling growling sensation and a salivating tongue. Despite its brevity, saying grace always felt more like a chore than a choice. Much like a dog licking the ground where its last bone lay, the anticipation to satisfy my hunger again was prematurely halted by the requirement first to say grace. Today, when I’m my hungriest and most tired self, it takes an effort to pause, slow down, humble myself, and give thanks. Sometimes I even forget. As a two-plus decade-long practicing grace-sayer, I still struggle with saying grace.

Recently, I've been thinking about saying grace as a metaphor for cherishing life’s small moments. Saying grace is an intimate posture of reflection. Across many cultures and religions, saying grace or giving thanks is often a communal and unifying tradition. As a child, I did not understand the sacred invitation of saying grace, an opportunity to practice solace. I did not emotionally connect with that brief moment of prayer and its larger context, being in the here and now, and there are times when I still don’t. Though a custom that brought me one step closer to godliness for the day, saying grace was a habit of presence-choosing.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to rush through the prayer and get to the food, much like how I tended to live life as an adult, going through the motions instead of truly experiencing them, only to get to the next vanishing moment. Living this way left me exhausted and empty.

A fundamental principle in meditation practice is mindfulness. In ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, he writes, “Through self-observation, more presence comes into your life automatically. The moment you realize you are not present, you are present.” Becoming aware of the here and now requires a slowing down. I sometimes feel like I have to force myself to pay attention to the now because my mind loves to wander into the past or the future. It might not even be that we are not paying attention; instead, we are paying attention to the past and future things, not the now things.

I have learned that those small moments in our lives - the ones we take for granted or the ones we rush through, like seeing an old friend and stating rather than asking, “how are you?” - these moments are life's most precious and richest ones. And they are happening all the time. What we do in small parts of our lives has ripple effects throughout our lives. As the saying goes, do it in small things and all things. When we are numb to the present, we rob ourselves of peace. When we are alive to the present, we gain peace.

When saying grace becomes a gratitude lifestyle, not just something we do out of ritual or expectation, we receive its daily benefit: unshakable joy. When we live out thankfulness, we create space to gain new meaning from the ordinary. We see the abundance in all things, possibilities instead of limitations, and we can more easily choose hope over despair. In Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggett's book, ‘Black Joy,’ she writes, “ But what happens when we can make time for the very things that will hold us together? If we name our time according to the joys we want to experience in it? I’m clear that joy exists in and among us without having to name it… But there’s also power in naming our joy, in being intentional about giving joy a specific time and designated space to help us heal.” Staying present and choosing joy is an act of will, and we must choose it.

Taking space away from the demands of life can feel enormously impossible sometimes. However, creating new rituals for our spiritual, self, home, and mind-care is possible and our prerogative; it doesn’t need to look like what it’s always looked like to be valid. One of the most liberating things we can do to practice showing ourselves grace is to evaluate what is and is not serving us. Taking more deliberate measures to practice being in the present can be as simple as taking five deep, long breaths, relaxing the belly, closing the eyes, and imagining that your breath is the sound of an ocean tide.

Whether you believe in God or the Universe, anyone can say grace. It doesn’t need to be formulaic or traditional. Saying grace is customizable, adjustable, and should meet you where you are. Saying grace is not about what you say before you eat a meal; it’s an acknowledgment you make of the here and now, a calling to be present and grateful. So the next time you laugh, genuinely feel the laugh from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head. You are saying grace. When you look, truly see, get curious, and see again. This is also saying grace. Rest radically. Unapologetically unplug and do nothing. Unlearn, redefine and renegotiate those core beliefs that keep you in a rut of continual momentum. You can say grace in all these ways, at your pace, in your singular manner, and gently remind yourself that now is all we'll ever have.

A photo of Lazarus, a black man with brown eyes and dark hair in dreads. He wears a colourful patterned shirt.

Lazarus Lynch (he/him)

Lazarus is a celebrated African-American queer chef, entrepreneur, musician, model, actor, filmmaker, writer, and the author of the prominent text, Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul. Lynch received his B.S. from Buffalo State College in Individualized Studies. He is a two-time Chopped champion and the host of Snapchat's first-ever cooking show, Chopped U, and the Food Network digital series Comfort Nation. His food blog was a 2017 Saveur Blog Awards nominee.

You can find out more about Lazarus's work here.

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