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The Charge to Use Your “Talents” & Let Your Light Shine (the “missing” Tuesday post) April 4, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Loss, Maya Angelou, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Blessings to anyone observing Holy Tuesday / Passion Tuesday or Great Lent! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to those preparing for Passover and to all during this “Season for Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, April 4th. WARNING: There is a passing reference to sexual violence. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.”

– from the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, recited at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton (1993)


Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t have the best start in life. In fact, you could say that parts of her life were twisted and “rooted in pain.” Born in St. Louis, Missouri, about a year after her brother, Marguerite Annie Johnson was the daughter of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and navy dietitian, and Vivian Johnson (née Baxter), a nurse and card dealer. The Johnsons did not have the best marriage and, for a variety of reasons, they sent their young children (ages 3 and 4) to live with the elder Bailey’s mother, Annie Henderson.

The four years in Stamps, Arkansas weren’t too bad, because the siblings were together and Ms. Henderson owned a general store which, along with her investments, allowed the Black proprietress to flourish when so many others were struggling during the Great Depression and World War II. But then, when Bailey Jr. was 8 and Marguerite was 7, their father collected them and took them back to St. Louis to be with their mother. About a year later, when she was 8, this little girl was sexually assaulted and raped (by her mother’s boyfriend). She told her brother, who told the family, who reported it to the police – but the man who violated her was only in jail for a single day. A few days after he was released, he was murdered. And the little girl blamed herself, blamed her voice and the power of her voice – and she refused to speak for almost five years.

Just as she struggled to survive, she grew up during a time when the whole country was struggling to survive – and when some were struggling more than others. She grew up to be a lot of things, including a streetcar conductor, a fry cook, a sex worker, a singer, and a dancer. All noble endeavors; however, the twist in the story came when she “found” her voice and she started to “sing,” despite being locked in a cage of oppression. The twist in the story is that when she started to use her talents, and really started to shine, she became the a woman whose words and name are known all over the world.

But, you probably don’t know her by her birth name. You probably know her by a variation of the nickname her older brother used when he called her “My” or “Mya Sister.” You probably know her as Dr. Maya Angelou, born on April 4, 1928. You may have even read a biographer (or an interview) indicating that the period of silence in the early part of her life, and everything she did to survive before she became a household name, was preparation for her destiny.

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (24:3, NIV)

As I mention several times throughout the year – and especially around this time of year – most religious holidays are connected to a period of getting ready for something momentous, amazing, and transformational. They are getting ready for something that is related to the end of suffering. In the case of Lent and Great Lent, Christian communities get ready for Easter in a way that mirrors Jesus’ preparation for what would become Easter. While they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, the disciples were also getting ready. Historically speaking, all of this New Testament getting ready took place as Jesus and the disciples were getting ready for Passover – which itself is a commemoration of a time when Jewish people had to get ready (and be ready) for freedom  (from the suffering of slavery).

During Passover, some people begin Counting the Omer, which is a 49-day period that leads to the anniversary of the revelation of the Torah. Similarly, the holy month of Ramadān includes the commemoration of the revelation of the Qur’an. In both case, people are (again) getting ready for something momentous, amazing, and transformational. Again, they are getting ready for something that is related to the end of suffering.

With the exception of references to Dr. Maya Angelou,” the following is an abridged (and slightly revised) version of last year’s Passion / Holy Tuesday post (which was itself a variation of a 2019 post). Click here for the 2022 post that talks about cults and/or click here for the 2019 Kiss My Asana post related to freedom and taxes.

“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,’”

– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Luke (12:35, NIV)

“‘It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’”

– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Luke (12:38 – 40, NIV)

In Christian traditions, Palm Sunday is the commemoration of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem for Passover. He arrived to find the temple was no longer serving it’s purpose – and he addressed that issue. After throwing the “thieves” out of the temple and in between the authorities, elders, and “spies” questioning him, Jesus taught. Remember, in the historically context – and as far as many would have been concerned at the time – Jesus was simply a renegade Rabbi, a teacher, who was focused on showing his people how to have a closer relationship with G-d. More often than not, he taught in stories or parables. Several of the stories associated with Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday involve people waiting for something amazing and transformative to happen. What is important to note is that each story requires action from the characters.

Each story requires action in the here and now.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention “The Parable of the Faithful Servant,” which is the story of a doorkeeper who is instructed to be at the ready for the arrival of the owner of the home (returning from the “marriage feast”) and/or for the arrival of a thief who might take advantage of the night. Maybe because they had previously, and privately, questioned Jesus about events that he said were forthcoming, Luke specifically mentioned Peter asking if the message was for the disciples or for everyone. The answer may seem vague to some, but it reinforced what an honor it would be to be given the purpose of guarding the door and that a good and faithful servant would be rewarded, while someone who falls down on their job would be punished. Then there’s that part that modern readers might think of as a Spiderman moment:

“‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’”

– quoted from The Gospel According to Luke (12:48, NIV)

The Gospel According to Matthew provides a continuous narrative by placing the faithful servant’s story directly before “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” or “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”). Just like the story of the faithful servant, this second story involves a wedding, light, and being ready. According to the parable, ten women are waiting for the possibility of being attendants (another word for servant) at a wedding, but it gets dark and they fall asleep. When they are awakened by the pronouncement that the bridegroom is coming, they trim and light their lamps. The only problem is that five (5) of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and failed to bring more. When the bridegroom comes, he can’t see the ones whose lamps are not lit and, according to Matthew, Jesus repeats, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13, NIV)

The details that reoccur in each story reinforce the message. First, there is a wedding – a momentous celebration that marks a union, a joining together. Second, the people who are waiting to join the wedding party are somehow in service to the bridegroom. Third, everyone has a purpose – although that purpose is not always explicitly explained. Fourth, everyone has a light and that light must shine in order for someone to be recognized. Fifth, there is no telling when one’s services or presence will be required; and so (sixth) everyone must be ready at all times.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Matthew (25:14, NIV)

The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke also detail a parable about a landowner (or master) who leaves his servants in charge of some goods. Luke associated the story with a different narrative, but Matthew placed “The Parable of The Talents” directly after the one about the virgins and uses the segue (above) to indicate that while the details of the story are different, the message is the same. This time there are three (3) servants and, instead of light, they are given talents, a form of currency: one servant receives five (5) talents, another two (2) talents, and another one (1) talent – “‘each according to his ability.’” (Matthew 25:15)

Now, who knows where the landowner is going – perhaps to the aforementioned wedding. What is known is that the first and second servant put their talents to work and increases the wealth, while the third servant buries his talent. (There is also a non-canonical gospel that says one of the servants squanders his talents.) When the landowner/master returns he praises and rewards the servant(s) who increased the wealth, but chastises the one who literally buried his talent for safe-keeping. In Matthew 25:27 the landowner/master points out that if the talent had been put in the bank for safe-keeping, it would have earned interest – thereby increasing the wealth.

Again, the message is clear: it is not enough to sit on one’s laurels and wait for salvation – one must exert effort in some way in order to be prepared. It’s not enough to repeat a mantra, a chant, or a prayer like it’s a magical spell. One has to engage what they have been give – all that they have been given: experiences, perspectives, skills, and all the other resources that could count as blessings and/or talents. We have to let our light shine… which can be really challenging when things seem so dark and also when we may not feel that our skills are as valued as, say, oil.

The importance of oil and currency are another motif in the parables that also showed up in the last days of Jesus’ life. Some commentary indicates that while Jesus was considered an agitator and a renegade, what pushed the elite to get rid of him (rather than to just tolerate him) was the moment when he threw the money lenders out of the temple (see Passion Monday). Then there is the moment when Judas decided to betray Jesus, not only because he was promised “a few pieces of silver” as payment, but also because of he was angered when expensive oil was used to wash Jesus’ feet (see Passion Wednesday). And here, in between the historical events, are the parables about oil and money – which might seem coincidental until you remember that Jesus knew how things worked; he knew what was coming. And, he was teaching people how to get ready for what was coming.

“When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

– Dr. Maya Angelou

When she died on May 28, 2014, at least one obituary referred to Dr. Maya Angelou as “poet of many talents.” Like her friend, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated on April 4, 1968*, she shared her talents with the world and she advocated for others to share their talents. Of course, to share our talents, we need to understand the value of our talents.

According to Arland J. Hultgren – a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – a talent was a unit of weight and, when used as a unit of money, it would be valued as that specific weight in silver. A talent would be worth about 6,000 denarii, or six thousand times a day’s wages. I’ve seen estimates that translate this into U. S. dollars and indicate that one servant received $300,000 USD, one servant received $600,000 USD, and one servant received $1.5 million USD.

Can you imagine, literally, burying $300,000 USD. If you didn’t bury it, how would you put it to work? How would you put $1.5 million USD to work? Keep in mind: it’s not your money. Would you change what you do with the money if you knew you could “earn” $300,000?

Now, flip it around, and consider that you’ve been given a talent…or five: How are you using your talents? How are you using your resources? How are you letting your little light shine? How does your wealth increase because you invest in your talents? What happens when you don’t use your talents?

It is interesting to notice what one values, how one attributes value, and how one uses what they value. Not just on a personal level, it’s also interesting to notice it on a national and/or global level. As a modern society, we have a history of undervaluing the most essential and fundamental services – and the people that provide those services. When it comes to this, the pandemic has shown us at our best and at our worst. The thing is, we can fix that last part. We can be better. But it’s tricky, because to be better we have to value and appreciate each other – and our natural resources – more than we value a piece of paper or, in the cases of people like me, an actual piece of sheepskin. We have to understand that whenever and however our individual and collective ends come, it’s highly unlikely that we will be remembered (or rewarded) for the talents we buried – on behalf of ourselves or others.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna makes it very clear that we will be remembered by how (and/or if) we fulfill our purpose. (BG 2:34-36), Of course, before we can fulfill our purpose, we have to see our purpose and truly see ourselves. In order to see ourselves and our purpose, we need a little light. Patanjali says that light is inside of us. (YS 1.36)

So, the next obvious question is, what fuels the light? It turns out that that power is also inside of us, just waiting for us get charged up.

“TATE: You are a writer, poet, director, composer, lyricist, dancer, singer, journalist, teacher and lecturer. Can you say what the source of such creative diversity is?

ANGELOU: I don’t do the dancing anymore. The rest I try. I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.”

– quoted from “Maya Angelou: An Interview” by Claudia Tate, as published in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: A Casebook, edited by Joanne M. Braxton

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Passion Tuesday April 7, 2020” or “04072020 Passion Tuesday.”]

NOTE: A playlist inspired by Dr. Maya Angelou’s life and work is also available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04042020 Maya Angelou”]

“Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.”

– from the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou, recited at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton (1993)

*NOTE: This marks the end of the “Season for Nonviolence,” but it is not the end of the practice.



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