Purists and Potterers

Purists and Potterers July 12, 2009

Despite my best efforts, a rosebush planted this spring in the backyard of the parsonage has died.  Now, when I purchased this one, it was part of a multiple purchase of roses.  Some were climbers I had bought before and knew took little care and would grow well.  Others were what are called “knock-out” roses, bred to be easy to grow and with little trouble.  Another were called “Peggy Norman” roses–so hardy that they were still blooming and thriving after Hurricane Katrina and have been propagated multiple times, with the sellers donating money for continued rebuilding in New Orleans.  I splurged on a ground rose that I figured would cover a really bare area and look good.  Then, with my cart nearly full, I passed a set of extremely aromatic yellow/peach colored roses that caught both eye and nose.

The informational sign promised exquisite flowers and enticing aroma and I just couldn’t resist.  It was also delicate and demanded a lot of care, which it didn’t get.  And so it died.
Now, not too long after I purchased those mostly easy care rosebushes, I read an article by a real rose professional, a purist where roses are concerned.  He turned up his nose at the kind of roses I had bought.  They were too easy to grow, he contended, and they lacked the spectacular aroma of some of the far more difficult and demanding ones, the one he cultivated.
He is right, of course.  I don’t have the highly aromatic roses, because the one that would have provided that is now dead.  In truth, I’m just a potterer, and most definitely not a purist where my garden is concerned.  I potter around the yard and flowerbeds because it is wonderful exercise and great for my soul.  I love watching seeds come up and seedlings take root and grow.  I’m totally delighted in the unbelievable taste of my homegrown tomatoes.  My dogs have also discovered how good they are, so it now becomes a morning race to see who can get to them first.  I don’t begrudge them their treat–there are plenty for all of us.  My kitchen counter is covered right now with lovely yellow squash and I made some delicious marinara sauce recently using my abundantly producing basil and oregano plants.  But those are my victories.  There are lots of defeats.  I’ve yet to grow an edible cucumber, and my peppers just don’t have good flavor or texture.  I routinely kill bedding plants and weeds are really getting the better of me in some of the landscape beds.
I could do all of this better, with more skill and more attention, doing a far better job fertilizing, spraying, searching out new and even more difficult plants, and studying horticultural principles.  But being a potterer is good enough for me.  It nurtures; it provides; it gives me great pleasure.
Many of us have heard the statement, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” While that sentiment may push people to excellence, to “purity,”  it has has kept many from trying things, because they knew they couldn’t do something well.  Years ago, someone said this, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly.”  Such words seem shocking, but I think make more sense.  If it is worth doing, then it is worth trying to do it–even if we don’t do it particularly well.  We may get better at it; we may not.  But we lose a lot more by not trying than by going ahead and giving a shot at it, even if we muck it up.  What would I have lost if I did not at least try to grow some things?  Again, I’m really not a particularly good gardener–but the joy from this!
Sometimes I wonder if people stay away from exploring their spiritual lives and their relationship with God because too many purists have scared them away.  “Your worship and prayer must look like this!”  “You must believe exactly like I do!”  “You’ve left the straight and narrow.  God will get you for that.”  “Here’s your list–be sure each item is checked off daily.  Otherwise you won’t grow spiritually.”
It might be a good thing just to be a potterer in the spiritual life.  Taste it, try it, make mistakes, explore the possibilities, run into some dead ends, and find the joy in the experience. Let us leave the fear behind of not being a “purist” or doing it well, and just see what happens. Remember that the potterer is the same thing as an amateur–one who does the task or plays the game or performs for the love of the experience–not the pay or status or other rewards.  The blessing is in the doing–and its all worth a try.

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