One of the concepts of Christian theology that is often cited these days as a model for relating to the land is “stewardship.” Christians are enjoined to be good stewards of God’s creation, and this is put forth as a useful model for relating to the natural world.
Well, yes…. but while considering ourselves stewards of the earth is certainly an improvement over mindlessly exploiting and pillaging it, we need to be cautious with this idea and not glibly accept it without further exploration.
What was a steward, historically? He was someone who worked to maximize the productivity of the land—its agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry—for the benefit of human beings. The word “steward” actually derives from the old English for “keeper of the hall.” So, from the beginning of its etymological life, the word “steward” had to do with meeting human needs for shelter, food and comfort. At some point, the land itself was included under the steward’s same human-referenced dominion.
Under this common conception of stewardship, whether Christian or secular, we are involved in making the land benefit and do the will of humans, and employing our strategic mind to be its manager. At bottom— even if we have the most benign and well-informed intentions—we are not letting the land be fully itself. We are still experiencing ourselves as external to the land, not as part of it. This will never lead to the land’s total flourishing, or our own.
The Green Christ brings us a very different approach to being stewards. The foundation of this approach is coming to know ourselves as full participants with and contributors to the vast web of life that sustains us. It means that we humans must cease putting our own well-being ahead of the well-being of the myriad creatures and plants, waters and soil that we share this planet with. And it is essential that we learn to know and connect with the divine Source deep in the land, which is just as significant, sacred and beautifully mysterious as the Source in the heavens.
So, to become stewards in the full, living sense of the word, we need to let go of any notion that we humans have the right to dominate the land, however beneficently. Nature’s reality—and the Green Christ himself—are immanent in the Sacred Land. We must come to experience ourselves this way too. Nothing less will redeem us or our precious Earth.
©Copyright Mary Janet Fowler, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is strictly prohibited without written permission.