Written by Martin Copenhaver
"While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them." — Mark 14:22
Researchers have found that performing a simple ritual before a meal can enhance the experience—the flavor of the food is intensified, the meal is enjoyed more. I knew this even before reading the research. After all, I enjoy wolfing down a brownie left in the pan, but that experience doesn't compare to the way I will savor a birthday cake after the ritual of singing and candle-blowing.
In one experiment, students were instructed to perform a ritual before eating a carrot: knock twice on the table before grabbing a bag of carrots, then knock twice more, take a deep breath, and then eat the carrot. Consistently the researchers found that the knocking-breathing ritual enhanced the students' enjoyment of the carrot.
It is interesting that watching a ritual—such as watching a waiter open a bottle of wine—does not have the same effect. Only a ritual you perform yourself can do that.
The researchers defined rituals as "a series of behaviors that are seemingly irrelevant to the act that follows."
Well, not all rituals performed before meals are "irrelevant to the act that follows"—for instance, the ritual of offering "grace" or "thanks" before a meal. Such a ritual is a fitting expression of gratitude for the gifts of the table. That it may enhance our experience is a bonus.
So knock on the table, if you must. Take a deep breath, while you're at it. Then offer a prayer, such as this one (which can be sung to the tune of the Doxology):
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below,
Praise God for all that love has done,
Creator, Christ and Spirit one. Amen.
Martin B. Copenhaver is the President of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. His most recent book is Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered.