When I was growing up my family had a tradition. On some (but not necessarily any in particular) occasions, and usually for supper, instead of the usual prayer for the meal my parents would strike up a short chorus. My fondest memories found all ten of us crammed around our table singing this prayer, maybe to the soft tune of candle light if it were a particularly special-feeling evening. Unfortunately, it was not a common enough tradition for me to actually learn the song completely before it eventually went dark as our family spread further apart, and only today did I stop and piece it together completely in my memory, and to the best of my recollection it went something like this:
As our family gathers around this table
Where this meal has been prepared
Let all our hearts be grateful
As we offer up this prayer:
“Our Father in Heaven, for this meal you have given
We want to say thank-you, thank-you from our hearts.
Bless the hands who prepared it, and now as we share it
Would you stay with us, and be our guest of Honour”
Usually when I think about tradition church comes to mind. Particularly, “traditional” church in which service structure is so deeply ingrained in its members that even the slightest deviation in program makes everyone feel awkward–particularly if you happen to be the one causing the deviation. I think of rules, regulations, and blind observation. And cages.
But when I think of that song, I don’t think of any of that. I think of my family, together, being a family. Sitting down around the table to share life together. It might just be my bad memory, but those 60 seconds of music were some of the most beautiful moments I can remember sharing with my family.
And as I remember that tradition I wonder why I’ve given tradition such a bad name. True, I’ve come from a subculture laden with empty, meaningless traditions, traditions that might have meant something to someone at some time, but are now nothing more than the routines of a well-oiled machine. But what if that’s all fake–the shadows of an empty shell, not the heart and reality of what a tradition is. What if traditions really are ways to remember who we are, but only work if we actually, you know, remember. What if tradition doesn’t mean anything unless we remember the value it celebrates? Family, togetherness, warmth, tradition. Why?
Because it’s too easy to forget.