Steward of Your Gifts
There are lots of things that amaze me about the monks who founded Saint John’s in 1856. For one thing, they may have come with plenty of dreams, but they found only woods and lakes and stony ground to work with. There were no stores nearby; no roads; no nothing. And while they had wood for fuel and building, farming was another matter. For that they had to start from scratch, and they had to get going right away. With starvation lurking around the corner, that energetic bunch wasted little time before putting plow to the field.
But despite the big rush, they did pause long enough to do one thing that still puzzles me. Whether it was a result of a German sense of order or the result of coming from an 1100-year-old monastery, we’ll likely never know. But before they broke the prairie sod that had grown the tall grass for thousands of years, those monks carefully measured the contours of the earth. And then they filed those maps away. What were they thinking? Who would possibly care about the shape of that ground in the 1850’s? But of course you never know.
Years later the community gave up farming, and twenty years ago we decided to replant the prairie. And it was just about then that someone remembered seeing those maps in the archive. Out they came, and today the restored prairie has most of the gentle hills and gullies that it had in 1850 — we hope. All thanks to the stewardship of those early monks.
In recent years a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of stewardship, and I’m not sure why. I’ts not that we as a society seem all that concerned about the distant future. Nor do we seem particularly interested in acknowledging our debts to previous generations. After all, many suggest, we created our world and it’s ours to do with as we please.
But the irony is that we diminish our own significance if we have nothing to pass on to the future. We are nothing if we are not links in a chain that transmits values and experience and heritage from one generation to the next. Absent the community that spans the generations, we become selfish consumers with no thought for those before or after us. But in fact our decisions matter desperately for future generatons. We matter decisively.
There are a lot of things which we have received but did not earn by the sweat of our own brow. We all live in houses that others have built, eat food from farms we did not start, share knowledge and culture that we did not think up all by ourselves. And perhaps most important, we have the gift of life that somebody else gave to us.
Given all that, the obligation to be a good steward of what we have received is critically important. We have no right go become the last link in the chain, when in fact we should enhance and add value to what we have received.
I am reminded of my debt to others when I see the graves of my deceased confreres. I recall the debt when I listen to Bach or gaze at a Renaissance painting. I remember it when I recall others who have died so that I might live the way I do. Put that way, my own responsibility becomes almost overwhelming.
Stewardship then is an awesome trust that our human family places upon us. It involves property and culture, knowledge and creativity. It involves the very gifts that you and I thought were ours to squander.
The Rule of Benedict teaches that monks should treat the tools of the monastery as if they were the vessels of the altar. That is a reminder of the sanctity of the created order, but we also need to see it in today’s terms. Today our own talents are among our most prized possessions. How can we hide our talents when so many have invested in our lives?
And so it is that we must nurture our gifts above all else, firm in the conviction that these are what we have to offer others. But what is it that you and I have to steward that is all that great? Well there are the obvious things like property and talent. But there are the simplest of things that we think have no value. Someone reminded me the other day of a gift I had never considered. He works regularly at a soup kitchen, and what gets him going every day is the thought that his smile might be the only smile that some poor soul might see all day. What an incredible gift. What an incredible responsibility!
+On October 2-5 I was in Calgary, Alberta, where I delivered two lectures at Saint Mary’s University College. This was my first visit to Calgary, and sadly I missed the Stampede by several months. I was struck especially by the physical beauty of the landscape, particularly with the rolling hills. I also thanked my listeners for the hand-me-down winter weather which we in Minnesota often get from them. When I left Minnesota on Tuesday it was seventy degrees. When I arrived in Calgary that evening it was snowing. That snow reached northwestern Minnesota the next morning.
+On October 7th I celebrated and preached at the Abbey Mass at Saint John’s.
+Also on October 7th the community gathered after Vespers to bless the renovated quarters for the junior monks and novices. The young monks celebrated because at last they had moved back into a space that was finally complete. I celebrated because the noise from the construction on their floor was finally at an end.
As for the roof over my room, we seem finally to be done with that repair. All summer we endured the ceaseless pounding, and on Tuesday the workmen finished up with one last session of pounding on my window — for fifteen minutes. My impression is that at last they are done; but I won’t believe it until the scaffold that reaches to my 4th-floor room is finally dismantled.
+The autumn frost made a definitive appearance this last week, and with it came the fading of our leaves. Actually, we were rather surprised by the vibrant colors that we did get, since we fully expected that the dry summer would lead to a drab autumn. The pictures in today’s post mark the last hurrah of the fall landscape.