Sunday, November 16, 2014

Word for the Day: Talent

As I round out my second week back at “Witness,” I want to thank a couple of commenters and my awesome friend Ellen for encouraging this blog.

I did not resume blogging after ten months without much deliberation, and the encouragement is reassuring. I have had a love-hate relationship with blogging since I started “Why I Am Catholic” about five years ago. Should I or shouldn’t I?

This question is related to today’s word, talent.

The Gospel for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time is the one about the man who gives his servants talents. I checked the etymology of talent, and it seems that our English word, meaning gift or ability, derives directly from the talent of the New Testament, which was a weight or measure or value. They are the same word.

So our English minds, jumping to English meaning, are right to jump. That meaning was there all along.

But it’s still a confounding parable. And talent is a confounding gift.

Most of us are so confused in our minds about so many things that (a) we don’t recognize the talents we have and/or (b) if we do recognize them, we are conflicted or even embarrassed about them.

Take a look at what Stephen King says about talent in his new novel, Revival: 

“Talent is a spooky thing, and has a way of announcing itself quietly but firmly when the right time comes. Like certain addictive drugs, it comes as a friend long before you realize it’s a tyrant. I found that out for myself the year I turned thirteen.”

Talent “spooky”? Talent a “tyrant”? Talent like an addictive drug?

Yes. Can be. Especially if you don’t understand, like the third servant in the Gospel parable, that talent, before anything else, is a gift. A gift implies a giver and the giver, of course, is God. Of course, many don’t believe in Him or, believing, fail in gratitude.

When I was in my early 20s and besotted with alt spirituality (there’s alt rock, so—), I had a brief flirtation with Emanuel Swedenborg. For a few weeks I even haunted a “Swedenborg library” in the city where I lived. And the only thing I remember from this flirtation—like a kiss that never developed into something deeper—was Swedenborg’s line about talent:

“What you are is God’s gift to you. What you do with what you are is your gift to God.”

Today, I think this aphorism falls short, because I believe that “what I do with what I am” is also God’s gift to me. I have come to believe—I have real evidence—that prayer works, and that God will help me use my talents if I ask him to. Without his help, I’ll probably make a hash of things. And talent will be a tyrant, a drug, a heavy burden.

My ambivalence about blogging seems to imply that my faith falls short many times—that I am afraid to use the little writing talent I have because I think I have to do it all myself. 

I don’t have to do it myself. I have to remember that my talents, whether they number five or two or one, were given to me and that, with God’s help, for which I must remember to ask, I may be able to “do” something with them.

To serve Him, of course.

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