“Grandma Knows How to Cook”
The following post is based on two stories I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda who was the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.
John was a young boy of seven years old. His mother Jane was raising him with the utmost love and care. As part of this, she made sure that John learned all of the Christian family traditions. John’s father Jack was not as keen on these traditions as his mother. He was more interested in seeing John succeed in his studies and develop an interest in sports.
John’s maternal grandparents lived far away. He could not go there often, but Jane made sure that she and John visited her parents at least twice a year. John loved his grandparents’ house. He felt lots of freedom there.
Every time they visited, Jane’s mother would remind Jane to make sure that John learns all of the Christian traditions. And whenever Jane found an opportunity, she would show her mother that she was raising John in that tradition.
This year’s summer break had finally come. Jane had told John earlier that year that they would go to grandma’s house for a week. John was eagerly waiting for those days to come. Now that it was finally here, he was jumping with joy.
After about 10 hours of driving, both John and Jane reached grandma’s house. As soon as Jane parked the car in the driveway, John ran and rang the door-bell a number of times. Grandma knew who it was. Since grandpa had passed away, she was the only one in the house to open the door. Grandma remembered grandpa and a couple of tear-drops came up on the corner of her eyes. But, thinking about John, her heart was filled with joy overcoming all of the sorrowful memories. She was always excited to see little John and had actually spent the whole day cooking all of John’s favorite dishes and awaiting his arrival.
Grandma opened the door and John jumped to give her a big hug, almost knocking her over. Jane quickly exclaimed, “John, be careful! Don’t knock your grandma down.” Overcome with joy, John started telling grandma everything about the trip over, including where they took breaks, what they ate, etc. Jane was almost not in the picture.
As John’s story came to a close, Jane asked her mother how she was doing and inquired about her health and living alone. Meanwhile, John looked around and found all the gifts his grandma had brought for him. He was excited and gave a big hug to his grandma for buying all the things he liked.
John then went into kitchen. To his surprise, John found that grandma had made all the goodies that he liked.
“Oh Grandma! I am hungry,” said John.
“But John, we had meals just couple of hours ago. Are you really hungry?” Jane questioned.
“I am really hungry.”
Jane told John to wash his hands. As he did so, John found that his grandma had already placed his meal into a very special dish. John ran to the dining table, sat down, and started eating. Jane was starting to become annoyed by John’s behavior.
“John, before you eat, what do you say?” she asked.
John continued eating and finally responded, “We say grace before the meal.”
“Then, why did you forget to say your grace?”
John continued to eat and said, “But Ma, grandma knows how to cook!” 🙂 🙂
* * * *
“Please bless the food”
A priest came home in the evening exhausted by the whole day’s work. He was hungry. He washed his hands and sat on the dining chair. His wife brought out some leftovers from the refrigerator, warmed them up in the microwave, and placed them on the dining table.
She sat on the other side of the table with folded hands and head bowed down. She was waiting for her husband to say “Grace.” However, after couple of minutes of silence she looked up to her husband. He was sitting staring at the food expressionless.
His wife then said, “Please bless the food.” The priest said with sad voice, “I have already blessed this food three times.” 🙂 🙂
* * * *
Thoughts about blessing food
Harvest-related festivals and blessing food:
In India and all over the world, we can find that there are festivals at the time of harvest. We find in many countries and languages harvest-related songs and dances. The significance of this theme is the recognition of the people that Mother Nature or God almighty provides us with food, without which we cannot survive.
As with these festivals, in our everyday routine, we should realize that we are lucky to have food on the table. Many do not immediately connect having food with God or Mother Nature, but all over the world there are prayers to bless the food and thank God for providing food.
Advantages of blessing food or praying before meals:
There are many advantages to doing prayer before taking meals or blessing the food. I can list a few advantages:
- Because of prayer, people wait for each other and they eat together. If there is no prayer, whoever gets food first will start eating right away and will not think about other people or the servers. Sometimes when this happens, the servers who had cooked the food may not have anything left to eat.
- Prayer reminds us of Mother Nature, or the God Almighty, who is providing us the food.
- Prayer also reminds us that God has created the body and the digestive system in order for us to digest our food and turn it into energy. With this energy, we must perform our responsibilities and do good work for the benefit of all.
- With prayer, we become aware that so many people have worked for our food. For example, not only the farmers but also the people who transport the food, those who sell the food, those who buy the food, those who cook the food and those who serve the food. We appreciate the efforts of all of these people and in turn show our humility.
- Blessing the food gives us an opportunity to think of people who do not have food, friends, and family.
- Psychologically, prayer or blessing the food quiets the mind before eating. If we eat our meals with peaceful minds, the food can be easily digested. Eating while rushing and running will not help us to digest the food fully. In rush, we sometimes eat more and sometimes less. Neither is good. Calming the mind down before eating helps us to develop control and restraint with our eating.
Various prayers blessing the food:
In the Hindu religion there are several prayers:
- In the Ramakrishna Mission and other places, people recite the following shloka from Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, shloka 24):
While reciting this shloka, one thinks that eating a meal is like performing a Hindu ritual called a “yajna.” In a yajna, one offers ghee and other ingredients of worship into a sacred fire.
The shloka is:
The meaning of the shloka BG 4.24 is:
“In a ‘Yajna’, one who sees that the Brahman is the fire, the oblation, the offering, the person who offers, and who sees thus Brahman in action ultimately becomes one with Brahman.”
(Brahman is the Ultimate Reality of a being or of the universe. One can think of Brahman as the formless God who has become the whole universe.)
Why we recite this shloka:
The food is considered as an offering in the fire of stomach. Thus, eating a meal becomes like a spiritual practice that reminds us how ultimately everything becomes one with Brahman. In this way, during each meal, one connects oneself with the Ultimate Reality.
- Many places people recite the chapter 15 of Bhagavad Gita. I think the reason is that the following two shlokas 13th and 14th of Chapter 15 are directly related to the food:
Meaning BG 15.13
Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the earth and with My power I sustain all the beings. I become the moon and nourish all the vegetation.”
Meaning BG 15.14:
Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the stomach of all beings as fire (Vaishwanara) and with the help of inhalation and exhalation I digest the four kinds of foods.”
Note: The four kinds of food are: (1) food that is chewed, like bread, etc. (2) food that is swallowed, like milk, etc. (3) food that is licked, like ice cream and (4) food that is sucked in the mouth, like the way many people suck on the pulp of a mango through a hole they create on the top of a mango.
The following are a few more prayers for blessing food:
God is great, God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands, we are fed.
Let us thank him for our bread.
“Good food, good sweets, good Lord, let’s eat.”
“Lord, bless this bunch as they munch their lunch.”
A Few more Christian Prayers:
“Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we’d not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread. Amen.”
“Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”
“Our Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food. Feed our souls on the bread of life and help us to do our part in kind words and loving deeds. We ask in Jesus’s name.”
“Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless our friends and family who’ve come to dine with us today.”
“God, many hands made this meal possible. Farmers grew it. Truckers drove it. Grocers sold it. We prepared it. Bless all those hands, and help us always remember our dependence on you. Amen.”
(Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Sneha Shah for two illustrations.)