What a Calf Taught Me

by Augustine Tardiff

We have, at our farm, a new calf named Gill. He had an accident when he was about a day old, and turned out somewhat odd. (At the time of this article he has fully recovered.)

The first clue you get to his unique personality is that he never, for any reason, pulls his tongue back into his mouth. Like a dog on a hot summer day, Gill’s life experience seems to be filtered through almost an inch of protruding tongue, giving him a very endearing and somewhat dopey appearance.

Cute as this is, this situation is not the most streamlined approach when it comes to eating. Gill can’t drink from the nipple of the milk bucket like the other calves.

Although he is not lacking in enthusiasm (this is not a sick or lethargic animal) the protruding tongue imperative that he seems to be obeying causes milk to dribble out everywhere from lack of suction. Gill, aware on some level that this situation is not ideal, thrashes and jumps around looking for a way to make things work.

You sometimes see in magazines some nice tranquil scene of a cute ten-year-old feeding a spotless calf in a well-kept barn, demonstrating the peace and order of the establishment. If you had a camera at St. Benedict’s Acres last spring, you would have witnessed a slightly different scenario.

You have to climb into Gill’s pen, guide him up to the nipple of the bucket, and then, once he starts drinking, clamp and hold his mouth closed. This takes 10-15 minutes, during which time you have to keep him in a loose headlock. If you don’t succeed in this, his enthusiasm will wrench him away from the bucket.

So you sit there—a participant in some kind of bizarre judo session—while Gill enjoys the high point of his day.

Given the duration of this exercise, it can be surprisingly contemplative. Gill and I were in our designated positions, a steady stream of milk drool pooling on my pants, and an odd scripture passage floated into my mind. God says to Adam and Eve, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth…” (Genesis 1:28).

“Dominion” up until this point for me had represented a kind of superiority over other created beings.

But God had not said, “Behold I have made you better than the rest of creation. Enjoy.” This “top of the food chain dominion” is a very Old Testament kind of concept.

God’s chosen people, like his chosen species, are meant to come out on top. But even as early as the first chapter of the Bible, you can see hints of what God really means sovereignty to be, reflecting the very nature of his sovereignty.

Sitting pinned against the side of the stall, with “dominion” dripping down my pants and pooling in my boots, I am drawn back to what Christ’s sovereignty looked like when all of Israel was waiting for a military messiah to restore them to their place above the other nations.

God taking the role of a servant is not him stepping down from his kingship for a time to wear a different hat. God’s role as ruler and creator of the universe contains this very nature of being a servant.

Service is not something relegated to lesser beings, while the Supreme Being sits on his throne above it all. Being made in God’s image and likeness, how much more should we strive to embody this royal servitude?