Posted: Nov 20, 2013 6:00 AM
Growing up, Thanksgiving grace was an honored tradition. Before the meal, we stood behind chairs at the table and closed our eyes while my grandpa bellowed an eloquent prayer, and our family followed in four-part harmony with the Doxology. Today, I blend the faith of my past with the convictions of my present in hopes of teaching my children the most important lessons of Thanksgiving grace.

Growing up in a faith-filled home with a father and two grandfathers who were pastors, prayer played a vital role in my upbringing. We prayed before meals — at potlucks, at restaurants and in our home, around our kitchen table even at the most casual of meals. Then there was Thanksgiving Grace, set apart from the routine meal prayers by the pomp and circumstance of the holiday and the expectation we all had that my grandpa's emotional delivery of this esteemed invocation would most certainly fulfill our intent. We'd feel closer to God and more bonded as a family. Thanksgiving Grace was like the National Anthem at our family Super Bowl.

And for all the times throughout the year that I had yawned through grace or kicked my sister under the table or, God forbid, opened my eyes and snuck a bite while my dad was praying, this prayer demanded and held our attention.

Even as a young child, I knew it was special. While I didn't know the meaning of all the words and phrases my grandpa included in his prayer — words like benevolence and gracious God and thy bountiful goodness — I sensed the sacredness of our tradition. I joined my cousins and aunts and uncles, standing behind our chairs before we sat to eat, bowing our heads to listen to my grandpa whose voice for this prayer was grand and drenched with feeling. I heard his voice break when he thanked God for our family — for his children and his grandchildren and the fact that we were all together. I felt his compassion when he asked God to comfort the families in the world who needed help — the children who had nothing, the sick, the needy, the hurting. And for all the times throughout the year that I had yawned through grace or kicked my sister under the table or, God forbid, opened my eyes and snuck a bite while my dad was praying, this prayer demanded and held our attention — every cousin, every grandchild, even if we occasionally lifted our heads to catch a glimpse of everyone praying. All that gratitude and love and compassion — it sank into us kids that day, even if we didn't know it.

After my grandpa finished his prayer, one of my uncles would take the cue to begin singing the Doxology, and the family would follow in the most beautiful four-part harmony. In our family, you could sing the Doxology before you learned to read.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

We saved the richest harmony for the Amen and drew it out as long as we could as if we didn't want the prayer to end. And it didn't. Like magic, our food, our family and our time for the rest of the day was blessed. It was gratitude dressed up as laughter and "Please pass the dressing" and "I'll hold the baby while you eat" and the recognition that my grandma and grandpa were looking on feeling deeply grateful for that moment and our family.

allParenting Kelle Hampton Thanksgiving table

That was over 25 years ago and my, how things have changed. I have my own children now, all but one of my grandparents has passed away, and each of their grandchildren has grown up and raised families and established their own traditions of faith. I've struggled the past few years to define what it is I believe about God and prayer, and having children has only made that struggle more meaningful — I feel responsible to present faith to my children in a way that's all-embracing. As Thanksgiving approaches and we prepare for our own family's celebration that, yes, will still involve Thanksgiving Grace, I'm thinking about the holiday memories my children are preserving. While we don't pray before all of our meals or attend Sunday School like I did growing up, and while, sadly, living far away from family keeps us from sharing the meal with a throng of cousins, I'd like to think that our Thanksgiving Grace is just as meaningful to my children as it was to me years ago. It's not the pomp and circumstance that makes our prayer what it is or the specific interpretations we have about God and religion. It's our family and our love and our constant attempt to remember — even though it's easy to forget sometimes — that we are small in a great big world, that we are more powerful when we support and love each other and that we are happier when we make note of all that is good in our lives.

My children are learning this holiday and beyond that that is what prayer is. And it's sinking into them, even if they don't know it.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.