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Pondering on poi and thanksgiving


A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you!

I remember learning several songs about thankfulness as a child. Music teachers always seemed to find new ones to teach us.

Mr. Gapud, our music teacher at Christ the King International School in Okinawa, taught us a song from his native Hawaii.

“We thank you for sunshine, for wind and for rain; we thank you for taro and tall sugar cane. We thank you for fish, for rice and for poi, for every good dish, and Thanksgiving joy.”

I was familiar with fish and rice, of course. And Daddy sometimes stopped and bought sugar cane for us as a treat to enjoy as we drove around the island on our adventures. But I had no idea what taro or poi were, or why anyone would be thankful for them.

Taro, I discovered, is a starchy root popular in many cultures, from Africa to Indonesia, a staple food that’s eaten roasted, baked, or boiled. Some cultures steam and peel taro, then fry it in lard or oil and dust it with sugar as a dessert.

Taro root is used to make poi, a native Hawaiian dish. The baked or steamed corm is mashed with water until it reaches the desired consistency, which can range from a thick liquid to a dough-like substance. The consistency is referred to as “one-finger,” “two-finger,” or “three-finger,” denoting how many fingers it takes to scoop and eat it. It has a paste-like texture, a delicate flavor, and a pale purple color.

The ancient Hawaiians believed the taro plant was the original ancestor of their people. Poi was considered sacred, and when uncovered at the table, it was believed the spirit of Haloa, the ancient Hawaiian ancestor, was present. In this presence, all hostilities and conflict among family members was to cease.

Poi reminds me that we, too, come from a source of life ...the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

In Him, our needs are met. He reassures us of this throughout Scripture. There are many verses that tell us to trust in God to provide for all our needs.

He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

As the Hawaiians believed the taro root to be their source of life, God is the source of our lives. And as poi was the basic staple food for the Hawaiian people, Jesus is our life-sustaining Bread.

We should reverence this Bread, uncovered on the altar during Mass, as our source of life. And shouldn’t we, too, cease our conflicts in His presence, as we gather at the Lord’s table?

I have never eaten poi, so I don’t know to be thankful for it, as I sang in the song years ago. But I do know Jesus, the Bread of Heaven and source of life.

And for this Bread, may I ever be truly thankful.

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