Excerpt from Ragan Sutterfield’s
Forthcoming Book Farming As a Spiritual Discpline
(Forthcoming Doulos Christou Books, 1 Nov 2009)
I have a friend who attended a university run by Cistercians. One of his professors, a monk, would often walk down the hall between classes mumbling to himself in Latin, “I am finite, I am finite, I am finite.” This is a necessary mantra, but one ignored in our age of pride and power. Even with all of the evidence of our limits, we still think that there is no greater power on earth “than human ingenuity.” We believe that we can solve our own problems, clean up our own messes, if only we think about it a little while longer.
We have been surprisingly successful at this game, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and in a creation that is abundant we have many Peters to rob before we run out. So we have the illusion that we’re making progress in large part because we are tangled in an economic web that keeps the illusion going, even through times of crisis.
It is more difficult to perpetuate this illusion with farming; the distance between Peter and Paul is shorter and the accounts come due sooner. However much we try to control the conditions, in the end farming is a mostly reactive art, relying on response as much as planning. A farmer can intend to plant peppers on the 20th of May, but then it could rain for two straight weeks without a single break. The best a farmer can plan for is ranges with large margins for change and contingencies.
This contingent nature of the farm comes from the reality of what a farm is—a tenuous patch of domestication in the midst of a wild landscape. Nature creeps in always and can only be managed, never controlled.
[Editor’s note: This passage was particularly striking to me because I encountered it while reflecting on Mike Bowling’s brief essay on planning in the Church, which is featured on the Ekklesia Project website. ]