No one told me that if you go to divinity school, people will — for the rest of your life — often assume you are the most qualified person at the table to pray before meals.
As someone who has never been great at out-loud extemporaneous prayer (despite growing up in evangelical churches where this kind of freestyle prayer was the norm), my reaction to this assumption is often: eek. While I know God doesn’t care if I accidentally say “and, uh, bless this food” twice, sometimes I prefer offer something a little less ... rambling, especially before a holiday meal.
Thankfully, divinity school did introduce me to a wider variety of prayer styles within the Christian tradition, including prayers that are written down and meant to be read aloud — perfect for the rambling pray-ers among us.
Below are 9 of my favorite prayers and blessings to offer around a Thanksgiving table. Many of these prayers grapple with what it means to give thanks for God’s abundance in a world that fails to share that abundance equally, on a holiday that is a painful reminder of how poorly European Christian settlers repaid Indigenous hospitality. “To me, this is the point of Thanksgiving,” writes Randy Woodley, “The holiday is a time to share stories both of joy and pain and still be thankful for all life. Thanksgiving is a time for us all to share our mutual humanity. Without ignoring the historical truth of the big picture and the fate of the Native Americans, we can use the Thanksgiving holiday as continuous narrative for peace and friendship.”
Those who have much and those who have little
This Thanksgiving let those of us who have much and those who have little gather at the welcoming table of the Lord. At this blessed feast, may rich and poor alike remember that we are called to serve one another and to walk together in God’s gracious world. With thankful hearts we praise our God who like a loving parent denies us no good thing.
Today and every day, it pleases God for us to sit as brothers and sisters as we share the bounty of the earth and the grace God has placed in each blessed soul. For this we all give thanks and praise to our loving and gracious God.
—“Thanksgiving Prayer,” by Cecilia A. More in Songs of Our Hearts, Meditations of our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics
To remember and to thank
God, amid football, family, and too much food, we pause quickly and without inconvenience to remember and to thank.
We remember ancient pilgrims who followed dreams of alabaster cities and financial opportunity. We remember hospitable First Nations people who welcomed them, and then lost their land. We remember our family times filled with joy and filled with anxiety, and old scars still powerful. We thank you for this U.S. venue of justice and freedom, and are aware of its flawed reality. We thank you for our wealth and our safety, and are aware of how close to poverty we are and how under threat we live.
We gladly affirm that “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,” but we yield to none in a sense of self-sufficiency, our weariness in needing to share, our resentfulness of those who take and do not give. Move through our half measure of thanks and let us be, all through this day, more risky in acknowledging that we have nothing except what you give.
—Adapted from “At Thanksgiving,” by Walter Brueggemann in Prayers for a Privileged People
For this life abundant that we share
We celebrate in gratitude to God for this life abundant that we share in community...
...for the gifts we have already received and those ‘unknown blessings on their way,’* we give thanks from our hearts, our lips, and with our deeds.
We acknowledge the false narrative of the first Thanksgiving, ignoring the atrocities done to Native people …
... we reclaim the values of generosity and compassion shown by Native people to sustain the lives of strangers.
Recognizing that our attitude toward the earth has often been one of consumption, scarcity, or waste...
...we turn toward proper stewardship, trusting in the abundance of the earth’s resources as we work with creation.
Where we have faced our cultural and religious differences with fear and suspicion...
...we come with curiosity and interdependence, discovering that in facing both joys and challenges, we can do so better together than apart.
Where this holiday has come to represent over-eating, consumerism, or a duty to spend time with family...
...we come seeking peace; celebrating work, rest and play; standing in awe of the turn of the seasons; and feeling the ‘deep, deep connection of all these things with God.’**
Where we equate the fullness of life with our own personal rights or desires...
...we recognize that ‘we are all of us, from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread.’***
For the products of the harvest and the grace given us; for hope, forgiveness and a new beginning...
... we shout a resounding “THANKS!” to you, God, our Provider.
*Native American saying ** Ray Stannard Baker *** Rebecca Harding Davis
—“Litany of Thanksgiving,” by Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, via Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago’s 2020 Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayers and Readings
The fruits of the earth
All-powerful God, we appeal to your tender care
that even as you temper the winds and rains
to nurture the fruits of the earth
you will also send upon them the gentle shower of your blessing.
Fill the hearts of your people with gratitude,
that from the earth’s fertility
the hungry may be ﬁlled with good things
and the poor and needy proclaim the glory of your name.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—From Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers: Revised and Updated Edition by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Come, sit at our table
Come, sit at our table. Be present in the bread we break and share. It is our daily bread lifted out of both grace and struggle. It is the bread of compassion and joy, sorrow and courage. We bless you who have journeyed with us through the hours of this day. Now it is evening, and the day is almost spent. Come to our supper table. Be our guest. Let us see your face in each of our table companions. At this hour light the lamps of our hearts and attend our deepest hungers. May it be so!
—by Macrina Wiederkehr, in Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day
You gave us this land
From the rising of the sun in the east to its setting in the west, you have blessed us with life, family, food from creation and spiritual ways drawing us closer to you.
You gave us this land, Turtle Island, to care for, to live in and to preserve for coming generations. Stop our ears when talk of destroying the land for temporary gain is heard. Teach us to respect the land and all her gifts of life. We are all related so what happens to any part of Creation affects us all. We are reminded that the land holds our ancestors, making it sacred.
As we work to end intolerance of people and cultures and our tolerance of historic injustice, open our hearts to reflect your image, your peace and your love to all. Open our spirits to peace and healing with those from all nations.
The wind, the sunrise, the sound of water moving forward, the songs of the bird, the beauty of the butterfly — all these things are where we find you, always. Help us to find you in this beauty and grant us lives centered upon you, Creator of the universe.
For all these blessings and more, our hearts are full of thanks. At this gathering of family and friends, this great feast of blessing, we thank you. Guide us to know your ways with respect. Hear our prayer of Thanksgiving. Let it be so. Amen.
—“A Prayer for Thanksgiving,” by Irv Porter via presbyterianmission.org
We see the gifts of your bounty
God of Abundance,
This Thanksgiving Day, we see the gifts of your bounty in the food on our tables, in the loved ones gathered, in the rest from our daily labor. We give thanks for the hands of workers who tended the turkeys, picked the potatoes, the beans, and the squash, packed them and processed them, and brought them to our grocery stories, our doors, our foodbanks, and our food pantries. We give thanks for the hands that prepared our feasts.
And yet we know that some of us will go back to hungry days very soon. When the feast is over, friends and family gone, the sun sets on this day of rest, the daily struggles return.
We know some of us won’t have this day to rest, because we are serving others.
On this day of thanksgiving, let us pause to give thanks to you, O God. As we fill our bellies with food and our hearts with love, fill our wills with determination to work for justice in our food systems. Amen.
—“A Prayer for Thanksgiving,” via Bread for the World
The bread of our lives
For the fruit of Your womb,
For the bread of our lives,
For Your hands in the earth we adore You;
For the clear-running springs
Flowing up from our hearts,
Mother God, we sing praises before You!
—By Gail Anderson Ricciuti in Life Prayers
Sacrament of Thanksgiving
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
—Adapted from “A Litany of Thanksgiving,” by Howard Thurman in Meditations of the Heart
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