Photo credit to firstbaptistnet.com
by Sister Edith Bogue, O.S.B.
"Why is stewardship so important? a student asked. "It's not like the other Benedictine values." Seeing my bewidlerment, she explained. "Respect, hospitality, community: they're about other people. Love of learning makes sense for a college. But stewardship?" She shrugged. "Isn't that just being careful with stuff? Do you Sisters really think stewardship is that important?"
Is stewardship only about things? The stereotype movie nun cares more about regulations than people. We Sisters DO prescribe particular methods for almost any task: wiping countertops, setting tables, cleaning the dryer's lint trap. We even have vigorous discussions about when to turn the lights off or why there are no spoons in our kitchenette.
The question - and our squabbles - suggest that, to be truly a value, stewardship must be about more than material things. "We read The Rule in class," my friend said. "It was right there: 'treat all the stuff in the monastery as though it was a vessel for the altar (Ch 31).' Those altar vessels were gold with jewels. No," she said emphatically, "this stewardship thing IS about preserving stuff."
What a challenge! How could I explain the Sisters' perspective: that stewardship is about relationship. "If you lend something to a friend, and find it dirty or broken afterwards" I asked her, "are you more upset about the thing? Or about your friend's lack of consideration for you?" She was thinking. "If your friend apologizes and feels terrible," I went on, "you may even end up comforting her for damaging your property." .
She laughed, then asked, "So what does that have to do with stewardship?"
"You expected your friend to be careful for your sake - not because of the thing. Your hurt was about relationship." She nodded. "Benedict packed a lot of spirituality into that one phrase. Those altar vessels are valuable because of their contact with God -the gold and jewels just symbolize that and remind us of it." She was puzzled. "Benedict believes that every single item comes into contact with something of the divine, "I said,"with a bit of God's presence - in each of us, the folks who use it."
"Well, maybe," she said, "but who does that connect with not having trays in the GDR? Or not leaving trash by the Sacred Heart shrine?"
Good practical questions. Stewardship is a value that takes imagination and creativity. If I stop to imagine the next person walking into the woods, I'm eager to pick up my trash so they can enjoy the shrine as much as I did. I might even pick up someone else's mess.
The trays in the GDR? With imagination, I relate to the workers' wasted effort - and to my fellow students, who share the cost of wasted food. I can imagine the students of 2050: What food can they afford? Will the food system still give them such variety?
"Maybe it's like this," my friend said. "The divine is what's important - in people and in nature too. Concern with the stuff just makes that visible." I smiled: what a great way to describe stewardship.