Like many people, I was taught to "say grace", i.e. give thanks before each meal. We sat down to dinner and murmured the words that were intended to express our gratitude for the food before us. And, like many people, I have fallen out of that habit as a non-churchgoing adult. But that doesn't mean I don't give thanks.
I don't express my gratitude by a formula anymore.
My husband came home with a bucket full of apples and a bag of plums, from trees at his work. As I stood in my little kitchen making apple cake, apple butter and plum cobbler, I took the time to notice the bright, sweet smell of the fruit, the practically magical way that plum skins so kindly disappear in cooking so that they require no peeling, the beautiful perfection of the color and shapes of the fruit.
The house smelled like autumn, with the tart and warm-spiced aroma of apple butter cooking down in the slow cooker. Underpin that with the buttery sweet smell of the cobbler in the oven, all kissed with dish soap as I washed up the ginormous mess I had (as usual) made.
I didn't actually eat any of the cobbler, but I enjoyed my Sweet Hubs' enjoyment of it. The peelings and cores from the apples were relished by deer in our back yard and I enjoyed them enjoying that, too.
When I stand back at the end of the day and see jars of dark, sweet apple butter cooling on the counter, and a pan of cobbler resting there, all the dishes washed and put away, I am thankful. Thankful for the bounty provided by the trees, thankful to my husband for bringing the fruit home and thankful for an upbringing that taught me what to do with nature's largess.
I think of it as God's table. When you come to my home for dinner, the best compliment you can give is to notice what is in front of you: to savor the flavors I labored to create and combine, to appreciate the lightness of the filling in the eclairs or the crisp paper thinness of the crust on the bread. If you walk in, thank me for inviting you and then wolf down your food without giving a second's thought to how it tastes or how carefully presented, it doesn't feel like you really appreciated my efforts. And if I sit down to the dinner I prepared myself and mumble some scripted words about thanking God for the bounty before me, that doesn't feel like expressing any true appreciation.
Do I sit down to each meal and take a moment to thank God for its presence on my table? Not with a prayer. Instead, I choose to honor the generous gift of an abundant array of beautiful foods by taking the time to really notice what is in front of me.
The crisp, green sweetness of the apple.
The lovely red flesh of the plums.
The wonder of butter, further glorified by combining it with a little sugar and flour into... oh my goodness.... streusel!!!
The magic of cinnamon. The bark of a tree can smell like this? What a world!
Vanilla. Ah, vanilla. An ugly bean pod thing with a fabulous secret. Isn't that a lesson for all of us?
And that is my way of saying grace.