June 2016 Field Notes

The Parable of the Potato Harvester

by Angel Woodrum

When I was a sophomore in college I decided I wanted to farm. I convinced myself that I loved the work of gardening and farming, despite doing very little of it. The only thing I knew about farming was how spiritual of an activity and vocation it was. Being honest with myself about the limits of my farming knowledge, I decided to spend the summer between college and Wake Forest Divinity at Anathoth Community Garden and Farm in Cedar Grove, North Carolina.

Just two weeks after my graduation I left for North Carolina. I had never lived out of Kentucky before. I was terrified. What if the other interns made me feel inferior because of how great and knowledgeable of farming they were? I was a graduate with a degree in philosophy. I knew nothing about farming. After a year of reflecting on my time at Anathoth I now realize that this fear came from my desire  to be the most knowledgeable student in the classroom. One story about Anathoth stands out to me almost as if Jesus was telling it to me in a parable. I will refer to this reflection as the Parable of the Potato Harvester.

It is Wednesday, our second day in a row harvesting potatoes. On our first day harvesting potatoes I had already declared that this was my favorite task, something I say after pretty much every farm task. Harvesting potatoes by hand is really quite magical. The plants poke out of a long row of black plastic, and to find potatoes you have to put your hand into the hole in the plastic which the plant is coming out of. You cannot see anything. You must feel your way around in search of large enough potatoes to pull out, like a magician reaching into a hat for a rabbit. The first day I work quickly because of my excitement for this new task. I dig my hand deep into the cool covered earth until I feel a nice sized potato. There are also three different kinds of potatoes planted in the rows. You do not know if the potato will be brown, red, or blue until you pull it out, which adds to the excitement and magic of harvesting potatoes.

On this second day of potato harvesting my curiosity gets the best of me. I rip the plastic more drastically than the day before and dig up the dirt so that I can see the potatoes and see what is happening with the plant. I see lots of weird, nasty looking worms and spiders. The task immediately becomes less satisfying not only because I cannot find many potatoes, but because I have drained the task of all mystery. The magic of the task is gone. My desire to know and to see more than others infiltrated even the task of harvesting potatoes.

My first year at Wake Forest School of Divinity was one of re-discovering the magic and mystery in the Christian faith. I believe this is why the Parable of the Potato Harvester is a story I have continued coming back to throughout this past year. My undergraduate studies made me desire to be rational when approaching all things, especially Christian theology. This made thinking, talking, and writing about my faith deadening. I would start my papers, discussions, and even whole courses with a desire to prove a point, making little room for mystery in the realm of philosophy and theology. Writing and thinking this way limited my understanding of the Christian faith, not to mention leaving me shut off from others’ ideas and theologies. The summer I had at Anathoth taught me that there is room for mystery and even magic.

My theological education at Wake Div is allowing me to explore and reflect on this new way of understanding God. This way is not deadening at all, but is full of wonder and mystery. Like digging your hands into the Creation in search of a beautiful potato or two.