Doing, Not Doing

In English, they can sound almost the same, fate and faith, but a little better familiarity with Latin would have tipped me off to their quite different roots. Still, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the concepts that these two words carry for a couple of weeks, where faith is likened to doing (it is something we practice, or cultivate) as opposed to fate, not doing (something we are subject to, powerless to influence). The tension grew after I was introduced to this captivating, rustic gentleman, Masanobu Fukuoka.

Watching this lovely, old, long white-bearded grandpa claiming that we ought just to relax and let nature take its course, and simply do what needs to be done and then take a nap, I was, I admit, quite drawn to the message. I don’t know that I could actually surrender enough to do it; I imagine it would make me anxious after all these years of learning to work in my community. Still, wouldn’t it be something to try? I mean, it gets to the heart, doesn’t it—What Is A Life?—and it throws into question all the restless questing we become attached to as grown-ups. Then I began to wonder: was Fukuoka’s approach not simply fatalistic? Or was it, in fact, a portrait of abiding trust? Possibly, why not, it was (most likely!) a mix of both. (10” video)

“The ultimate purpose of farming is not the cultivation of crops,” Fukuoka claimed, “but the cultivation and perfection of the human being.” A similar comment might be made about the study of the humanities: it’s not about the job or the status or the money, it’s about learning how to be human, to be natural, related, a human being. Is this what the Gospel verse printed on our University stationery meant to convey? I was sardonically amused when I laid eyes on it: ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin …’  Was this pretty message, couched in flowers, meant for the women of the society in which I teach? Or was there, perhaps, a deeper truth waiting to be recognised?

When I watch the little old man surrounded by aliens from the cities looking to be restored rolling seed balls, I think about education and about the ways things spread; how we spread ourselves. As teachers we are putting a whole bunch of different seeds  (whose riches contained we trust cannot be destroyed by hungry critters, real or figurative) into a package that will be flung out into society, lay on the earth for a time, and, if/when conditions are right for flourishing, begin their sprouting.

Yes, I know, this is dreamy. In dreams, though, is where the quickening seed engages the tension between faith and fate. We hold each, or both, by heart; this much is apparent when we choose to respond. We do well to remember what David Steindl-Rast teaches:

“The heart is a leisurely muscle. It differs from all other muscles. How many push-ups can you make before the muscles in your arms and stomach get so tired that you have to stop? But your heart muscle goes on working for as long as you live. It does not get tired, because there is a phase of rest built into every single heartbeat. Our physical heart works leisurely. And when we speak of the heart in a wider sense, the idea that life-giving leisure lies at the very center is implied. Never to lose sight of that central place of leisure in our life would keep us youthful.”


2 thoughts on “Doing, Not Doing

  1. But there was another fellow who suggested that faith is a gift, not an achievement, and he used some of your own imagery when replying to some friends who asked why they couldn’t achieve great things. He told them, it was because they had so little faith. He went on to say, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

    Faith as a seed-ball. Why not?


    • Yes, shoreacres, you are quite right to bring up that dear oddball fellow’s notions! This is one of his deep & difficult statements, don’t you find? Grasping it’d need a lot of living into, a lot of letting go. Imagining faith as a seed ball, though, that I get & I love! We sometimes don’t know what the situations we find ourselves in are going to call forth from us. What a joy it is to experience the emergence of something we didn’t know was in us rising to meet the encounter.

      Faith _is_ a gift, yes, and certainly _not_ an achievement but to me the contrast that maybe wasn’t clear enough is that we are invited to participate, to co-operate/co-create with/in it; it’s not an imposition, as we might think of fate as. We are free not to engage this gift, as well. (But then no whining, or you get the Mustard Seed Exhortation 😉!)

      Liked by 2 people

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