A Prayer Before Meals

Amid the jarring juxtaposition of a recent school shooting and a royal wedding joining the now too familiar cacophony of daily news, it is the return to prayer that grounds my mind and spirit. And the routine of a prayer before meals provides access to this regular grounding in grace.

Among the postings in our old blog I found this piece by Gil Bailie from 2009:

Faith is a gift. Those who have been given the gift have been given responsibilities along with it. I have recently been struck by this, as I have begun to use a passage from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act III, scene iv as my prayer before meals. It is, it seems to me, an example of what it means to be a Christian aristocrat, radically distinct from, but not incompatible with, being a worldly aristocrat.

In this storm scene Lear is teetering on the brink of madness. So recently an arrogant and self-centered king doing precisely what Christ forbids in the Gospel, namely lording it over those under him, Lear is now reduced to the famous “nothing” which is such a leitmotif throughout the play. Now noticing the suffering of common humanity and his indistinguishability from them, Lear cries out:

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayest shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

This is Shakespeare expressing a quintessentially Christian understanding of the world turned upside down and the aristocracy of the poor in spirit. For the time being at least, it makes a nice prayer before meals.

As Robert Frost said: what worked for me may work for you.


I am currently working with Gil’s 1990 Reflections on Shakespeare’s King Lear, preparing digital audio materials from the original cassette tapes. Our donors are receiving monthly complimentary downloadable MP3 files (and mailed CDs for our Sustaining Donors) of these talks. Follow this link to listen to an excerpt from Part 1. If you would like to join our list of supporters and receive your own monthly audio materials please visit the Donations page of our website to learn more.

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