At the Saint Thomas Choir School in New York City, where I lived until 2016, the boys took lunch and supper together. It was their custom to stand at their tables until all were ready, and then the headmaster would select a boy (or a visitor such as yours truly) to say grace. Although they could offer any grace they wanted to, the boys’ favorite was also the headmaster’s, short and reticent: “For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful.”
Our rector sometimes joined the meal. He would pray: “Christ in the wilderness five thousand fed / With two small fishes and five loaves of bread. / May he who multiplied that division / Bless and hallow our provision.”
It was also the custom at these meals for people to stay seated and continue conversation until the tables had been cleared (by boys assigned to the task) and everyone was finished. Then the headmaster would have us all stand, and he would pick out a boy (or, you know) to say a prayer to conclude the meal. The boys’ favorite was, again, the headmaster’s: “For what we have just received may the Lord make us truly thankful.”
So you can imagine the tittering that happened when once the selected boy got mixed up. We had not yet sat down to eat, but he quickly said, “For what we have just received may the Lord make us truly thankful.” Nonetheless we all stayed to eat.
Sept. 2, 2023, was the 50th anniversary of the death of J. R. R. Tolkien. I have often repeated the claim that Middle Earth, Tolkien’s created world, has (remarkably) no religion. It is hardly a secular world; it is filled with the struggle of right and wrong, the love of a good life, and many other things that we associate with Christianity—and yet there is no religion.
But now I must say, almost no religion. For I have noticed a scene in The Two Towers in which Faramir and his men, before eating, stand and face west in a moment of silence. Frodo and Sam are urged to join. Afterwards the men explain that it is their custom to have this silence before their meals in which they look "towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be." So it seems the men, if not the hobbits, have a religious ritual.
Our altars face east, looking to the return of our Lord; yet west or east it seems good to pause before eating and direct a thought to that which “will ever be.” And one could do worse than give a sigh of thanks for one John Ronald Reuel, who may dwell already in “that which is beyond.”
Out & About. This Sunday, Sept. 10, I’ll be leading a discussion of The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha. This is at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas, in the Great Hall—park in the lot and then walk around past the front door of the cathedral and continue to the Great Hall. We meet at 5pm, finish by 6:30pm. If you have not read the book, you are welcome to come and listen.
On Oct. 8 (same time, same place) the Good Books & Good Talk seminar will meet again, this time to discuss Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather—an evocative novel that centers on Archbishop Lamy of Santa Fe. Cather, who loved the American West, attended Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway when she was at home in New York City.
Back to September: On Sunday the 17th I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, at 9 and 11:15am.
In spring 2024 I will be teaching Christian Ethics at the Stanton Center, then to be back home at St. Matthew’s. The class meets on five Saturdays starting Jan. 20 and continuing (roughly) monthly. If you’re interested, drop me a line, or see https://edod.org/our-diocese/stanton-center-for-ministry-formation/