November 18, 2009

Bless this meal?

I have to speak on the topic of Thanksgiving at the Tabernacle gathering this Sunday night, and being that it's an interfaith shebang, I've been looking all around for Baha'i writings concerning Thanksgiving. When you think Thanksgiving, what's the big thing that comes to mind? For me it's blessing the meal. That seems to be the most spiritual part of the day, the last remaining moment of reverence that has not been lost to a fuss over gravy recipes and uncle Carl's new girl friend. But what about Baha'i Thanksgivings?

I am always hearing that Baha'is don't bless meals. I can recall my first meal in a Baha'i home when the host said, "Baha'is don't say a blessing before we eat," just before digging in. I've heard it a zillion times. Being an idiot on the Baha'i faith at the time, I just filed it away as a sort of note to self. But now I've grown into being only a half idiot on the faith, and I'm trying to take the guidance to "depend not on the sight of anyone but your self" a little more seriously. Now faced with the prospect of speaking to a big crowd about Thanksgiving, the day on which the mother of all meal blessings takes place, I want to have my facts straight. But that seems virtually impossible!

Abdul Baha actually wrote a couple of prayers for meals and I read that he usually said a few words to God before eating. What happened to the whole Perfect Exemplar thing that is commonly tacked on to Abdul Baha information? Perhaps we are to think that he only blessed meals to make the non-Bahai's in his company more comfortable. He strikes me as that kind of sensitive guy. I read that in the Tablet of Medicine, the Lawh-e-Tib, Baha'u'llah wrote that we should begin meals by mentioning His name and end them with mentioning God's name. So why am I always reading that Baha'is don't bless their meals? What's a girl to think?

It seems that Shoghi Effendi felt contrary to the notion of blessings. He wrote in a letter that blessing meals was a Cristian thing and we should avoid falling into old religious habit (or something along those lines). How do those fragments of guidance fit together? What are we to do? Is there a right and a wrong here? I have read a myriad of blogs written by Baha'is asking this same question, but they don't seem to have come up with any answers either.

Anyway, I've devised a little talk to give on Sunday that completely ignores the whole Thanksgiving conundrum I find myself in, and focuses on words of thanks versus the act of thanks and will end with a prayer by Abdul Baha. Well, that's tentatively what I will talk about. I won't decide for sure until I run it by Barb (she's spoken at this event before). But still, in my own day to day life I am confounded by the whole Baha'i blessing thing.

It seems odd to me that we have prayers for waking up, or evening, for being in prison, for teaching,for everything under the sun, and that meal time would be singled out as time to not pray. I just don't understand. It seems like such an obvious place to pray. And if I Google "Baha'i prayers by category," meal time prayers come up in the lists. I wonder what the rest of the Baha'i world is thinking on this topic. Are they asking the question? Are they blessing meals? Was Shoghi Effendi once quoted out of context and then the we all just followed along, forgetting what Abdul Baha said?What Baha'u'llah wrote? Well, I suppose this is one question without a satisfying answer, but that doesn't mean I'll stop wondering about it every day when I sit down with the kids for lunch.

2 comments:

  1. I have a blog entry on this, at
    http://tinyurl.com/Bahai-grace

    It has translations of a number of table prayers from Abdu'l-Baha. I do not think Shoghi Effendi was against the practice. Mahmud Zarqani records one instance (page 15 of Mahmud's Diary) in which Abdu’l-Baha asks the young Shoghi Effendi to chant a prayer before the party go to the dining room. And Shoghi Effendi had also grown up in Palestine: he knew that saying grace before eating is *not* a uniquely Christian practice: he would have seen it in the Jewish and Muslim communities there, and it was normal in Abdu'l-Baha's household. On the face of it, the letter from the Guardian's secretary reflects the views and knowledge of the secretary, not those of the Guardian.

    In any case, the letter on behalf of the Guardian refers only to not introducing a new set of prayers he (Baha'u'llah) has not specified. But Baha'u'llah has specified table prayers before and after the meal, and the broadest interpretation of Baha'u'llah's words would cover any prayer at all. So there's no such thing as a table prayer Baha'u'llah has not specified!

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  2. So, does this mean that letters from secretaries are not just dictated by or paraphrases of the person from whom a letter's response desired? Shoghi Effendi's secretary could just respond to the letter in her own words for the Guardian? Hmm...Am I understanding you correctly?

    So why do Bahi's always say that we, as a group, don't bless meals? Any thoughts on that?

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