The spaghetti’s on the table and getting cold.
Jane is lying on the kitchen floor, moaning about not being able to reach the glasses, the boys are shrieking gleefully in the bathroom, and Jack is shouting, “No, boys, no! Don’t splash it on me!” I set the salad bowl on the table and try to breathe.
Doug walks in the door. “Sorry I’m late. Traffic was ridiculous.”
I smile weakly. “You’re just in time. Can you help Jack wash the boys’ hands?”
I squat beside Jane. “This is unacceptable, young lady. You need to get up right now and put the glasses on the table.”
“But I can’t reach them!”
I stand, grab glasses off the shelf, and slam them onto the counter. “There! Now you can reach them.”
Why does the pre-dinner hour always devolve into temper tantrums in which I am almost always as guilty of acting like a spoiled child as my children? I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Jane. I shouldn’t have barked at you like that.”
She hugs me around the waist. “That’s okay, Mama.” While she puts the glasses on the table, Doug hops the boys into their chairs. We all sit down.
“May I light the candle tonight, Mama?” Jack asks. I nod. He strikes the match and lights the wick. “Bless the Lord,” he says.
The rest of us chorus back, “The Lord’s name be praised.”
We hold hands around the table. Jack says, “Oremus,” and we pray the Sanctus:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.*
Then Jane prays. “Thank you, Jesus, for this food. Thank you for the farmers who grew it and Mama who made it. We pray for Michaela and John’s father and Irsy and Josh’s family. Amen.”
We start dishing up spaghetti and sauce and salad. Ben grabs my hand and says, “Pay! Pay God!”
Luke nods and echoes, “Pay God! Song!”
The first time they said something like this, I was giddy with joy, of course, but also surprised: we’d never taught them to pray or to ask to pray. I remembered how one of my seminary professors, a Benedictine sister, had said Christian formation isn’t taught so much as it’s caught. We learn to follow Christ, she’d said, because of the community of Christ, which models discipleship to us. Prayer before meals is simply something the boys have caught, like a cold, because we do this whole prayer ritual each evening before dinner.
We hold hands again and sing the doxology. The boys smile and bob their heads in time to our off-key singing. “ ’men!” Ben says when we’re through.
“May we eat now?” I ask. Both boys nod, and we all dig in.
*translation: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
This piece was originally published in “The Prayer Corner” column of The Bethany Briefs, November 2012.