Rick Bragg, one of the authors I admire most, has a regular column on the last page of Southern Living magazine. It’s the first page I turn to when my copy arrives. In fact, it’s the reason I have a subscription.
This month, he writes about the blessing before Thanksgiving dinner, saying, “It consisted, as near as I could tell, of reading the King James Bible front to back, then holding a discussion on its finer points.”
It’s hilarious. It’s as heartwarming as homemade cornbread dressing. It’s as beautiful as a pan of homemade yeast rolls.
And it takes me back to the longest prayer I can remember.
In early 1994, the state of Georgia was suffering from a horrendous drought. It was so bad that one Sunday night before he began his sermon, my dad called the Chairman of the Board of Elders, a man named Kent Kelso, up to the front of the church, and he asked Kent to pray for rain.
I can’t remember the exact words to that prayer, but I know he covered every county in the state of Georgia. That prayer was everything just short of an actual rain dance. I think it even lasted longer than Dad’s sermon. I’ve already said it’s the longest prayer I’ve ever heard, and that’s saying something because I once dated a guy whose mother was a Pentecostal. I went to church with them one Sunday night, and at one point, I began to wonder if they were going to go straight on through to Wednesday prayer meeting.
About a month after that epic prayer, tropical storm Alberto parked itself on the Georgia/Alabama state line, and it rained for a solid month. The ground was so saturated that in south Georgia, caskets began popping out of the earth. They say a flood like that only happens once every hundred years. And, I guess, so do prayers like Mr. Kelso’s.
Despite my religious upbringing and my appreciation for Mr. Bragg’s homage to the eternal blessing, I simply can’t relate to what he’s saying. For instance, he writes: “Surely, I figured, thousands of little boys had starved to death between the words “Let us pray. . .” and “Amen,” he writes.
In my family, the time between taking the turkey from the oven and “Amen” is pretty much equal to the time elapsed during the opening kickoff of a Thanksgiving Day football game. No morsel of our meal has ever grown cold because of a long blessing.
It’s not from disrespect or a lack of thankfulness. It’s just that I grew up in a family of men of very few words.
My Granddad, Dad’s dad, has always offered this blessing: “Bless this food to our bodies and us to Your service. Amen.”
Mom’s dad, a World War Two fighter pilot, always said grace this way: “Thank You for these and all Thy other grace provisions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
And my dad, the preacher who at one time preached three 45-minute sermons every Sunday morning, has the shortest of all. “Thank You for the food and fellowship. Amen,” is his everyday blessing. On Thanksgiving, it more than doubles. “Father, thank You for this day to remember what You’ve done for us. Thank You for family and for the food and the fellowship. Amen.”
Bragg has a point when he says the message of the lengthy blessing is never too long. But I’ve come to believe that the beauty of the short one is not the prayer itself. Rather, it’s the men who pray it. If you live your life every day of the year as a blessing to your family, even a handful of words can be epic.