This image of Maria, my Willa Cather girl, a goddess of the farm, is an enduring image for me, it is one I often think of when I think of the farm and our stewardship of the animals.
I am honored to be a steward of our animals, I saw this quote from early Christian writings recently about stewardship, it quoted Peter as saying "as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."
In the Kabbalah, God is said to have blessed the stewards and asked them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and watch over it and care for the people and the birds and the animals and the fish of the sea and "over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
Work heartily and faithfully for the poor, he said, and for the vulnerable, and be wary that the rich and the powerful do not take advantage of the weak ,or acquire too much power. A steward, said god, "must be above reproach. He or she must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or cruel or greedy for gain and power.
Maria and I both feel a great sense of stewardship over the animals in our care. We see it as a sacred responsibility, as do so many farmers we know. (I think in particular of our friends the Gulleys, devoted stewards of their animals.)
Once we saw that Gus was suffering and beginning to starve, our responsibility was clear to us.
The early Christians valued the stewards, then called them the faithful and wise and benevolent managers of the world, he cautioned his people to be especially good to the helpless animals, on whom we depend for so much, to be sure to "give them their portion of food at the proper time."
I think of this responsibility every day on our farm. We do not eat out meals before the animals, we give them their portion of good every day at the same time, we make sure it is fresh and dry. They trust us to do this and follow us to their feeders.
Nothing is healthier for me than to be reminded of the idea of stewardship every day. My study of stewardship theory helped me to clarity when we had to decide to end Gus's life. Some people were furious with me for not doing more, but I was very much at peace with my own sense of responsibility. Stewardship is clear, we are not her to prolong suffering, especially not in our own self-interest.
I am sorry to feel that this very Christian idea of stewardship seems to be losing ground among people of faith, especially here in our country. The idea of Stewardship is a seminal idea behind the Army Of The Good, we watch over the helpless and the vulnerable.
I find myself taking it more and more seriously, for animals, for people. It is a profoundly beautiful idea, and I am grateful we get to practice it her on the farm, all day, every day. I always think of it when I see Maria carrying her hay to the feeders, the trusting animals walking patiently along, receiving their portion of food at the proper time.