What my 3,000-pound steer has taught me about faith.

Stories from the farm.
Nov. 26 2008 6:55 AM

Holy Cow!

What my 3,000-pound steer has taught me about faith.

(Continued from Page 1)

Thomas Merton wrote that one of the most important and neglected elements in the beginnings of an authentic and interior life is the ability to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things. Elvis seems to have that. I do not. When I take photos or write, I struggle to see how light and color suffuse our world and sometimes rise above myself to capture the beauty in ordinary things. But much of the time, I'm on the phone, trying to convince some disembodied computer or human that I do, in fact, exist and did, in fact, order those HDTV channels.

Elvis is beyond this. He doesn't have to work at acceptance, or retrain his mind to accept the bad with the good.

Steer.
Elvis in a contemplative moment

One afternoon recently, I was rattled by the drumbeat of grim and contentious news pouring out of Wall Street and Washington, first from the car radio, and then from shouting and hysterical commentators on cable news channels. "We are going over the cliff," one said, as a means of offering perspective. I went out to the pasture with an apple and sat down next to Elvis.

"We are going over a cliff, it seems," I said. He turned his enormous brown eyes upon me and looked back to the fence, back at the pastures beyond, back at less fortunate cows who lived in barns, ate silage instead of fresh hay, slept on mats on concrete, and would shortly go to market.

Advertisement

It does not really matter, he seemed to be saying, and I agreed.

This, I think, is the spiritual center of animals like Elvis, the thing that they can teach us and show us.

Elvis is not, to my knowledge, self-aware. He has no consciousness that I can see. He eats, rests, and stares out at the world, content to observe it.

When things are bad or I am nervous, I sometimes have fantasies of killing Elvis, of sending him to another farm or off to market, as it is tough to justify spending so much money on so much hay for a steer.

2 Steer.
Elvis relaxes with a friend

But I even when I have these bad dreams, I doubt I will ever kill Elvis, because I have been oddly blessed in life to see that creatures like him have lives, just as I do. It is sometimes difficult for me to justify the idea of keeping such a creature as a pet and spending so much money on his feed and care.

Elvis does not know, and will not ever know, that he should be on the menu at McDonald's by now and is destined for a short life, as few steers see their fifth birthdays because their legs are not designed to carry such massive weight for too many years. There are few ways to treat such a massive and powerful beast if he gets sick, so when he does, it will almost surely be the end of him.

Sometimes this makes me sad, even as I grasp the irony: It will never bother him.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.

Books

Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.

Books

You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Behold
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?