A Word to the Talented

Those of us who are talented, we may one day find, are talented for this reason: if we were not so talented, we would be so much the less likely to learn that talents mean nothing! We are blessed with intelligence, so we may know intelligence makes no one great, as dieing people would define great. We are gifted, so we may learn that gifts are as mammon in God's family: useful, but far too easy to idolize. We are beautiful, so we may discover that physical radiance fades, leaving only an inward lamp. We are strong, so we will know our strength can never be enough: we must trust another. If anyone is blessed, their blessing comes from God — and God never gives his children what is not for their good, though the blessing may harm in order to help.

On the other hand, many of us who are least in ability, in intelligence, in beauty, or in strength are such as they are because, out of all of us, they don't need the gifts to recognize them as superficial and secondary. Their struggles will lie in other areas.

The gifted are often gifted because, had they no gifts, they would pine after them forever, never learning that gifts are not valuable commodities, that the highest value of a gift is that it was given, that the giver is the main blessing, not the thing itself. The gift may be lost, but the giver, once given in the gift, can never be taken away. (Yet a giver is still more blessed: he receives both the giving and the receiver, and neither can be taken from him.) So for those whose growth would be harder if they had no gifts, a corrective lesson has been designed: they will have what they desire.

Like children who will not learn to eat their candy in moderation, they must have their candy until they are sick of it. Like some men who idle away their lives in business, they must have their success until they know what success is. Like some rich who hoard to themselves money and possessions, they must have all they want until they know they what they should want. To these, the gifts of God are simultaneous judgment and mercy — that is, they are his correcting hand. Those of us most blessed with gifts (God knows) may be the weakest, for we are the ones receiving the lesson.

Know this too: God does not give you a gift and then approve of you because you have that gift. That He gave you the gift is surest proof that you need no gift to be accepted. He does not say, "I don't love you. Let me put a hat on you. Ah! There you are. Now I love you, because you are wearing that hat." No strength, no beauty, no talent, no influence, no intelligence, no creativity, nor any other such thing is the basis upon which God receives you. He loves you because He is Him and you are you, and if you must have a better reason, you do not yet understand quite what love is. The very idea that love is unconditional requires our acknowledgment that, without any regard for our blessed accouterments, we are loved.

Some Thoughts On the First Two Chapters of 'Walden'

The Highest of Arts

In the second chapter of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden", entitled "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For", Thoreau is critiquing, as William Stringfellow or Walter Wink would put it, "the principalities and the powers" — that is, human institutions, which feed on our vital life. These vampiric machines, of which we are supposed by our cultures to become cogs, dehumanize us. They are agents of death and sleep, or "somnolence" as Thoreau put it earlier in the chapter. This is the immediate context as we find him turning the discussion, in a way reminiscent of the German Romantics, to the relation of this numbing somnolence and moral activity:
Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

A Misconception of Thoreau

There is an odd difference between the real Thoreau and the popular conception of Thoreau. The oddity is that the man was explicit about the fact that he lived very near Concord and regularly conducted business there, as well as even dining at restaurants with friends on occasion during his time at Walden Pond. All this he mentions without defensiveness even in the first two chapters of "Walden".

And yet many people still think of Thoreau either as some rugged ideal of his own idealism, or a hypocrite attempting to sell himself as something he was not.

Thoreau was a philosopher, and in his philosophies an idealist in that he wanted humanity to strive for a high moral ground, even if the practical result fell short. Thoreau demurred about his own accomplishments in the experiment at Walden Pond, not fooled into believing that he was himself a great example of living the ideals he prescribed. There are a few places where he expresses this, including this admission in the second chapter: "I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"

Favorite Deviants