Two duties fall guy-ward each Thanksgiving: Carving the turkey and leading the prayer. Last time I carved, my loved ones spent December pulling turkey shrapnel from their clothing, hair and inner ears. Now I get the prayer.
It’s the tougher job. Suddenly, you’re the Ecumenical Point Guard, stuck between the Almighty and a sea of expectant faces. If you live anywhere outside a Norman Rockwell still life, you have to accommodate several different religious creeds and find some vein of genuine feeling — all while a gravy boat steams succulently off Point Breadbasket, waiting to unload.
Gratitude is the underlying theme of the holiday. And most guys don’t start thinking about what they’ll say until they notice it got quiet. That’s why this keynote moment often begins with: "Oh! (Expletive) — hey, God!"
Saying grace is, of course, not everyone’s thing. Atheists are already eating, druids are in the garden and vegans probably regard this as a bizarre turkey funeral. But for those of you who want to give thanks and aren’t professionals at it, a few thoughts:
Take your time. Especially if you have an interfaith gathering. Certain people will want to bless themselves. Some like to join hands, while others don’t want to be touched until they’re dead. Just wait till all the hands stop flying around. Begin with "God." Or any mutually agreed-upon name. ("Lord," "Yahweh," etc.) Then your family doesn’t wonder why you’re murmuring at the yams.
No ID necessary.
You don’t need to say "This is the so-and-so family" unless you’re praying to the DMV. If your god needs identification, it’s time to rethink that religion. Move on to . . .
"Thanks for." God and "thanks for" are the compulsories. Then you move on to the freestyle portion:
Have a few ideas on what you’re thankful for. You can tell the guys who’ve thought about this beforehand ("Thank you for our lives, our health and each other") and the ones who haven’t ("and, uh . . . these are sure good pants! And how about that football game?!")
Open your eyes. I never understood the closed-eye prayer thing. If you’re stuck for material, look around. Chances are, the people staring back are a source of gratitude. The health that allows them to pull a chair close and fidget during your words is worth mentioning.
The continued safety of people not sitting in any empty chairs, the proximity of food and the fact that political strife is a conversation topic, not a knock at the door, might merit a verbal nod. Listen for a highpitched whining sound — that’s your cue to wrap it up.
Let them know you’re done. You need some clear, transitional phrase. "Amen" is great for this. It’s an ancient word meaning: "The prayer is over. I’m going to hit the turkey like a tackling dummy now." Then grab your fork and go.
And happy Thanksgiving.