In her 1942 book, How to Cook a Wolf, food writer MFK Fisher addressed humanity, hunger, and prayer in a chapter called “How to Pray For Peace.” As those were wartime years, American homes were making sacrifices, and thus, she offered a few thoughts on the humble and affordable potato with a recipe for a Quick Potato Soup. She also cited this verse published in various readers in the late 1800s:
Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good
But don’t forget the potatoes….
from “Prayer and Potatoes,” Rev. J.T. Pettee (full poem below)
Keeping the feast holy and wholly
The World Communion celebrated in churches around the globe this weekend will be different in different places and traditions. While it is not likely that potato flour will be widely used in the making of the communion bread, it may be that many people will at some time find sustenance that day in the ubiquitous spud (or simple foods like it).
The rootedness between food and communion is something that many of us lose when we keep the feast of the Lord’s Supper. Tidy, sanitary, and now because of Covid-19, solitary in front of a computer screen, churches by and large have symbolically packaged holy communion away from the actual sharing of a meal, and all of the work that goes into preparing it.
We lose sight of the fact that food is holy, in that it is what sustains us. And the preparation of food, therefore, is holy. As is the sharing of it, the production of it, and the cleaning up after as well. The whole meal. It’s all holy. Communion ought not to remind us of the somber music, ritualistic words, antiseptic cups, and Styrofoam-like wafers, but of love, and among other things, our humanness and the Lord’s. After all, you are what you eat!
Lord, on World Communion Sunday, may we appreciate the food
that we have and be mindful of those who don’t have it.
May we think of those who at great risk, legally or otherwise, come
to this country to harvest it, process it, stock it, prepare it, and serve it.
May we give thought to ways that food is sustainably and unsustainably
produced and our responsibilities and choices in buying and preparing it.
May we not waste food, and instead, recall the love you have for each of us,
regardless of all the things that we use to divide ourselves from one another.
And lastly, good Lord, may our prayers be accompanied with action…even
if it is sharing potatoes. And that, dear Lord, will make it a World Communion. Amen.
“PRAYER AND POTATOES”
by Rev. J.T. Pettee
An old lady sat in her old arm-chair,
With wrinkled visage and disheveled hair,
And pale and hunger-worn features;
For days and for weeks her only fare,
As she sat there in her old arm-chair,
Had been potatoes.
But now they were gone; of bad or good.
Not one was left for the old lady’s food
Of those potatoes;
And she sighed and said, “What shall I do?
Where shall I send, and to whom shall I go
For more potatoes?”
And she thought of the deacon over the way,
The deacon so ready to worship and pray,
Whose cellar was full of potatoes;
And she said: “I will send for the deacon to come;
He’ll not mind much to give me some
Of such a store of potatoes.”
And the deacon came over as fast as he could,
Thinking to do the old lady some good,
But never thought of potatoes;
He asked her at once what was her chief want,
And she, simple soul, expecting a grant,
Immediately answered, “Potatoes.”
But the deacon’s religion didn’t lie that way;
He was more accustomed to preach and to pray
Than to give of his hoarded potatoes;
So, not hearing, of course, what the old lady said,
He rose to pray with uncovered head,
But she only thought of potatoes.
He prayed for patience, and wisdom, and grace,
But when he prayed, “Lord, give her peace,”
She audibly sighed “give potatoes”;
And at the end of each prayer which he said,
He heard, or thought that he heard in its stead,
The same request for potatoes.
The deacon was troubled; knew not what to do;
‘Twas very embarrassing to have her act so
About “those carnal potatoes.”
So, ending his prayer, he started for home;
As the door closed behind him, he heard a deep groan,
“Oh, give to the hungry, potatoes!”
And that groan followed him all the way home;
In the midst of the night it haunted his room—
“Oh, give to the hungry, potatoes!”
He could bear it no longer; arose and dressed;
From his well-filled cellar taking in haste
A bag of his best potatoes.
Again he went to the widow’s lone hut;
Her sleepless eyes she had not shut;
But there she sat in that old arm-chair,
With the same wan features, the same sad air,
And, entering in, he poured on the floor
A bushel or more from his goodly store
Of choicest potatoes.
The widow’s heart leapt up for joy,
Her face was haggard and wan no more.
“Now,” said the deacon, “shall we pray?”
“Yes,” said the widow, “now you may.”
And he kneeled him down on the sanded floor,
Where he had poured his goodly store,
And such a prayer the deacon prayed
As never before his lips essayed;
No longer embarrassed, but free and full,
He poured out the voice of a liberal soul,
And the widow responded aloud “Amen!”
But spake no more of potatoes.
And would you, who hear this simple tale,
Pray for the poor, and praying, “prevail”?
Then preface your prayers with alms and good deeds;
Search out the poor, their wants and their needs;
Pray for peace, and grace, and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, —for all these are good,—
But don’t forget the potatoes.
from OSGOOD’S AMERICAN SIXTH READER for Schools and Families
by Lucius Osgood, 1873