“A talent is forged in the quiet; a character in the stream of the world,” said German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Indeed, there is quiet nourishing needed for a talent—but also the expression of this talent in the wider context of human interaction.
Talents are gifts, good stuff, which need to be put into action—and we all have them. They need to be used as much as a gift needs to be unwrapped in order to perceive its worth. There are many talents, many more than we usually perceive. These talents move beyond special gifts and qualities in art and music, in the natural sciences, technology, and economics, to other realms. There is the talent of uniting or networking people, of discerning the needs of others at the right moment, of patient endurance and courageous living. There is the talent of cherishing nature, animals, and the environment; and having a fearless heart and hand for every living thing under the sun. There is the talent for beautifying otherwise dull surroundings, of listening attentively and constructively, of selfless and straightforward thinking.
If you look at our world as a web of qualities, you could say that without each thread woven into it, you wouldn’t have a strong net carrying on the movement of life, cushioning the shock waves of daily activities, and backing up good action. A strong and sturdy web needs all the threads. Likewise, each talent unfolds its influence when used and when infused into the network of actions and motives.
This truth, and much deeper layers of it, was voiced some 2,000 years ago by Christ Jesus. And the truth he was conveying lies at the heart of a parable.
This parable speaks about a man who distributes talents to his three servants: one receiving five, the second two, and the third, one talent—a monetary unit in Galilee at Jesus’ time (see Matt. 25:14–29). The owner returns and realizes that two servants have doubled the value by trading with the talents, while the third one has left the talent unused, and returns it to the owner with no increase. The owner commends the two active servants, and tells each, “Thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
The story continues: “Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man . . . and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.”
The parable is of course not talking about stocks and bonds, but about qualities and about God. Jesus’ teaching is timely and fresh for anyone ever questioning whether he or she has good qualities, whether he or she has talents at all, what his or her individual worth is.
This could be the bottom line of Jesus’ teaching:
1. Each of us is given talents. Full stop. No limits, no restrictions, no questions asked. We are all gifted.
2. We will use our talents if we understand where they come from. The ones who understand that the leading force in our lives is God, good, will use their talents.
3. The total number of the talents doesn’t matter. The talent matters. Note that both the one with the two and the one with the five talents have their gain doubled.
4. If we do not use the talent, the talent is lost.
In order to make these four points work in our lives, the second one especially is central—it’s paramount to understand where the talents come from. Talents are from our Maker, God, divine Love, and are to be used in Love’s service. Note that the servant who does not put his talent to use has a negative view of his lord and regards him as selfish—“a hard man.” Note also that at the end of the parable, the one talent unused is not taken back by the owner but rather given to the servant with ten. Talents were designed to be used, cherished, and developed by the ones to whom they were granted. These talents flow directly from Love and are the pure expressions of our compassionate Father-Mother God.
The talents God gives reside wholly in our spiritual individuality, which is formed and expressed by divine Love.
In essence, talking about talents is closely linked to talking about place, which is truly expressive of our individuality more than anything else. Our place is who we are—and if you look at famous individuals whom we admire for their talents, you can easily see how their individuality, the expression of their talents, carved out their place in time and history. So place is a demonstration of individuality that comes to light by our using our talents. Our individual, original being unfolds our place. And as unique as our talents are, so is our place, because we are truly unlike anyone else.
A friend of mine had been cherishing for her whole life a deep love of animals, especially horses and dogs. For a long time this love didn’t bridge over into a talent she used to pursue a career. You could say that she hid this talent and didn’t use it, though cherishing her love as a hobby—until a few years ago. It was time to dig up this hidden talent and slowly yield to a diviner plan.
She started to listen attentively to God’s lead and increased her gratitude for God’s beautiful gifts of strength, health, abundance, and sweet joys. Her desire to contribute something meaningful to mankind ran very deep.
A first sign that her desire was in the process of being transformed occurred while she was visiting a horse farm, when a purebred Arabian stormed in her direction and followed her like a well-trained dog the entire day. In the evening it turned out that the owner wanted to sell his stallion and had been waiting for the right individual. He was so thoroughly impressed that his horse had evidently chosen his new master that he lowered the price so much that my friend could now for the first time in her life afford to own her own horse.
And what a horse! Over a period of a few months a concept came to her, in the form of an agency that would offer support and training for individuals using the help of horses; this soon became a concrete business. For the last several years this agency has flourished into a unique institution that is supporting my friend financially and emotionally in wonderful ways. Her Arabian, who is part of the training sessions, is also her early morning jogging partner, as well as an impressive and patient “business partner.” The talent of being a “horse-whisperer” doubled and carved out a unique place for her to bless others.
The key to using our talents is, to me, to understand the fundamental difference between individuality and personality. Personality will never put to use our talents in their highest form, inasmuch as perceptions and feelings derived from a personal sense of ego don’t demonstrate our divinely ordained purpose and unique place. The talents God gives reside wholly and exclusively in our spiritual individuality, which is formed and expressed by divine Love. Unselfishness and humility lead the way to perceiving who we truly are.
And here is a wonderful paradox: Those who humbly accept that we are reflections of divine Soul, those who trust that their talents have a divine source and are diligently using their gifts in the service of others, will gain the most out of them for themselves. Nobody profits more in unselfish service than we, because unselfishness purifies our motives and ensures that Love shines through everything we do.
Mary Baker Eddy, who knew so much about the dignity of man, quiets all questions about our talents with this great aphorism: “To do good to all because we love all, and to use in God’s service the one talent that we all have, is our only means of adding to that talent and the best way to silence a deep discontent with our shortcomings” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 195).
Annette Kreutziger-Herr, professor of musicology and cultural studies, lives with her family in Berlin, Germany.
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