While Planting Potatoes

While Planting Potatoes May 11, 2023

image via Pixabay

I planted potatoes, as I told you the other day.

As I planted potatoes, I prayed, because gardening makes me feel like praying. And as I prayed, I thought about things.

I balanced the planters on bricks so they’d have plenty of room for extra water to drain through the holes. Then I put a layer of gravel at the bottoms of the planters, for more drainage. Then I broke off all but the biggest eye on each of the sprouting seed potatoes, and set them on top of the gravel.  I covered the potatoes with a few inches of potting mix, and added some organic plant food made of bone meal. In a few days, the sprouts will stick out above the soil. When the sprouts are several inches tall, I’ll bury them in more potting mix, or perhaps compost or straw. Then the sprouts will come up again a third time and be buried, and I’ll keep this up until the soil is a mound at the very top of my great big planters. Finally, I’ll let the sprouts grow as tall as they want, and let them flower, and the flowers will die. When the flowers die straight to the ground, I’ll wait at least a week without peeking. Finally, when it’s gotten cold and the last of the garden is dying off, I’ll harvest potatoes.

That is how you grow potatoes. Potatoes grow in that way, whether there’s a God or not. If the entire universe is attended by a gentle, loving, immanent God, potatoes will grow by a process of repeated live burial and resurrection that would murder another kind of plant. If God is an indifferent watchmaker who imagined the universe into being and then moved on to other hobbies, potatoes will still grow in the same fashion. If God is a tyrant who must be placated with sacrifices, the potatoes will still grow in that way. If there is no God at all and potatoes came to be through the sheer accident of lightning striking amino acids in a puddle, then potatoes will still form underground if you bury their shoots.

The first time I planted potatoes, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t bury them at all. I just let the vines grow up, and I got no crops. The second time, I read a tutorial that wasn’t very good. I dug potatoes as soon as I saw flowers, and got potatoes the size of marbles. Eventually I got the hang of it, so I can tell you how to do it.

If my dear friend Holly, a witch who celebrates Yule instead of Christmas, wanted to plant backyard potatoes, she could ask me, and I could instruct her how. If my friend who is an Omnist, or my other friend who is Orthodox Christian, or my friend who is an atheist, or my Jewish friend or a Buddhist monk or an Anglican priest, asked me how to plant potatoes, I would teach them, and they could go and plant them. Holly could show me how to set up a backyard chicken coop with a nesting box so I could raise a little flock like hers. and we could both show somebody else. An atheist could teach me how to plant a fruit tree, and I could learn from them, and I could teach somebody else. The rules of how things work remain the same, no matter your explanation for why there are things in the first place.

There are also rules for what to do about other people, and those rules are real, and they can be learned and refined like the rules of gardening.

If someone who didn’t know asked us how we were supposed to treat people, we would probably all tell them some version of the same rule: don’t serve anybody a stew you wouldn’t want to eat yourself. Don’t measure people by a stick you don’t use on yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The exact details of what this looks like in practice can be debated without end, but the gist is the same.  People who put in in practice are good people, and people who refuse to look out for their neighbor are bad. People who realize they’ve been taught something is loving toward their neighbors when it isn’t should repent, and change the way that they love, so that they can love better. Anybody can learn to do this. Most people struggle to do it. A few people don’t seem to care about the rule at all, and they go down in history as monsters.

Why, then, the need to be right about God?

Why am I so terrified that I’ll get my theology wrong?

I can go on doing the things I think are important, whether there’s a God or not.

That is a relief, after all the spiritual turmoil I’ve been through lately. Whether there’s a God or not, my mission remains the same. If there isn’t a God, nothing is wasted.

And if there is a God, and I still think there must be, I can go on doing things that are important, whether God is a tyrant, a neglectful father, or truly the God of Love. I can find people who will teach me what’s important to do. And if I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I can’t find anyone to teach me, I’ll just have to give it my best guess. And if I find that the things I was taught were wrong, I’ll have to change, to repent and do things differently, whether there’s a God or not, whether that God is forgiving or vengeful with my mistakes.

That, too, is a relief.

I have been told that God is forgiving.

I hope it’s true that God is forgiving.

I choose to believe in a forgiving God.

I hope that everyone does their best with the world around them and what they’ve been taught, and our mistakes are forgiven, and it all comes out in the wash. I hope that everyone who was afraid of a tyrant god opens their eyes at the very end to see a loving Friend. I hope that happens to me. But I can go on doing what’s mine to do, regardless.

If that’s the God I choose to believe in, what do I do with those specific beliefs I’ve been taught?

Why is it important that I’m a Christian instead of something else?

It can’t be because he’ll hurt us if we get it wrong.

I have given myself permission to question every belief. But lets’ say that I choose to remain a Christian because I really, really think it’s all true. I hope I do. I think I will. If God is good and forgiving as I’ve chosen to believe, why did He reveal so many things about Himself? Even though you could go on learning to be good without them? He couldn’t have done it just to give us a set of rules. We already know how to follow rules.

What if it’s just so that we might have joy, and so that our joy may be complete?

Maybe the worst blasphemy is the people who say it’s all about wrath and punishment and demons and avoiding hell, instead of about joy.

I’ve said that I’m going to look for the God of Love. I’ve been trying to find the God of Love for the longest time. I am also going to look for the God of Joy. If I don’t find the Joy, if I find worry and scruples and anxiety instead, I’ll know that what I’ve found isn’t God at all.

That’s where my mind went when I was planting potatoes.

That’s where I am today.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.


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