She asked me the question at a reception for a financial services college where I work (as a moral fraud) to which she and her parents have long been donors. Her father at 91 had taken a credential in philanthropy that I teach. ("At my age, Phil" he had said, "this is my market.") Before asking me the question, she had asked if I am Catholic, which seemed like a yes or no, so I had said yes. Her father died this year; her husband died this year; her prior husband had died prematurely years ago. Her children are grown and will not enter the family financial services business. My question which had opened this flow of conversation was, "How are you?" So, I admitted I did not know the difference between a talent and a charism.
A talent, I learned, is given to us for our own use, as we wish. A charism is given for a purpose we cannot shirk, and which lives on through us, and through those we touch. The holy spirit, too, like the unholy ones, knows social marketing and goes viral, is contagious. Or, the preferred analogy or parable would involve seeds, which split open the shell, even on dry ground, seeking the light and the earth.
That is Catholic or at least Gospel language, but if the holy spirit is to speak to us, it must use language we learned when we were still young enough to learn a language, often at our mother's knee, perhaps kneeling with her, or listening on her lap. (Your mother, your language. Be grateful you have any language of love. If you hear you will hear in langauge as personal to you, as this post is to me. Then you too will be a Fool, witting or unwitting, holy or unholy, and in your own voice.)
Speaking of mothers - Socrates said he followed his mother's trade, that of a midwife. She was a maeute and he used the maeutic method. Think how the baby is born, if you can recall seeing that, or have borne it. "We are born," wrote St. Augustine, "between urine and feces." The woman, like the seed, is torn open. Women in childbirth do not, I have noticed, speak like preachers in church, or moral philosophers explaining Altruism. In Socrates's time a Cesarean was performed without anesthetic. You think that is hard, ladies, recall that Socrates's clients were all mature men, town elders in positions of wealth, influence, and power. Now you get the joke about the maeutic method, the holy spirit, and charism too.
Inspiration - Gethsemane. You can get that too. "What is in it for me?" You might say that is not the problem the holy spirit seeks to solve. The dark night of the soul. Fall and winter, before spring. Voice following the burning coal sizzling the living tongue, preceding an interval of prophecy, followed by an undignified end.
As it happened we were seated last evening at dinner beside each other, and talked about a center for personalized philanthropy or life leadership perhaps convened within a faith tradition or across traditions that would open a space for the spirit to speak and to connect to the world of material things, including money and legal work. In such a space I would be sure to invite (without telling anyone in advance for it would freak out the customers) the dark spirits, or maybe the dark spirit would come unbidden, hitching a ride with paying customers. If you open a space you had better welcome them, like Halloween, for Trick or Treat. Either way they will be served, as we know from the living History of All Religions, and from our own personal history if we have been broken to see it.
Robert Frost's first poem in his first volume, reprinted first in his anthologies later, was "The Pasture Spring." We go with the poet in VT or Maine, to open the pasture spring as ice melts into mud. We open the spring by clearing the dead leaves. (I am told by Scholars that this might be a classical reference by a country poet who dropped out of Harvard, having studied Classics.) The water from the spring runs muddy before it runs clear. The women in childbirth does not speak in pieties; every curse, every obscenity, heralds the joy of new life, and the infant's wail, the first lungful of air.
When I read about Wealth & Wisdom Consulting, as an emerging profession, a trade, a market differentiator, or Value-Add, I go a little nuts. In a tradition, like that of an established church, or the professing of English Literature, you get through a canon, years of training; you get to wear black robes, slashed with color, you get to wear a ceremonial hood, like a monk's cowl, and after decades of drill, you get to call yourself Doctor or Father or Sister whatever term denotes the Learned, and the Wise. Then you profess or teach in a shared language to fellow communicants, even if it is deconstruction, Marketing, or the arts of rhetoric (politics, law, hermeneutics, sophistry). To present yourself as a Wisdom Consulant, as if this were a Brand, or a job, or an honor self-bestowend, is to show yourself oblivious to the dark spirit that loves us as we are, and lives in us and through us and revels and riots in our Wisdom and Virtue as avatars of Blindness, Learned Stupidity and Santimony and Vice. Those the gods would destroy they first make successful, wise, virtuous. "Thank you, Lord for not making me as other men," saith the High Priest.
Know yourself - the first rule of moral philosopy - and the Angels' favorite joke. They teach us in pranks played, the fall from grace, the moment of despair, the humiliating reversals, the turn of fortune's wheel, and the moment of recognition, by self and others, that makes for tragedy, scandal, expose, or a good pratical joke.
The spirit (lest she be understood by those she would damn - see St. Mark on parables) speaks in opposites - the women suffering, cursing, torn asunder, perhaps bleeding to death, lives to see and rejoice in the bloody birth. To induce labor - that is wisdom consulting, and first you have to bear, and be born, a child yourself. Calve like a cow. Ludicrous to see it, laughable. The little monster born from the larger.
All I did was ask her, "How are you doing?" It was rude of me not to ask you. How are you doing?