WHEN Dame Joan Sutherland talks about her career in opera, she's apt to refer to her voice as if she puts it on a shelf at night. In a 1986 radio interview she said, for instance, ``I don't hear the voice the way the audience does.''1 Such unpossessiveness is characteristic of Dame Joan, in many ways a most uncharacteristic diva. It perhaps gives a clue, too, as to why she is still performing (and even impressing critics) after more than forty years on the stage. Dropping a possessive pronoun isn't usually cause for comment. But to the modern ear, accustomed as it is to terms of ownership -- my house, your daughter, their genius for public relations -- ``the voice'' may not sound humble so much as just plain odd. ``How can one not claim ownership of a part of his or her own body, of one's own abilities?'' we can't help asking. Certainly a person's voice belongs to her if such things as talent, skills, artistic creations and scientific discoveries, companies, houses, land, and even ideas do. Yet if societies have reached a point where airspace and sea lanes may be ``owned,'' where does ownership end? Is absolutely everything possessable?
Of course, ownership -- like time, money, and other human inventions -- is really just a convenient way to order our lives and our dealings with one another. And so it actually has only the value we give it. But like time and money, ownership in the 1980s seems to have taken on a life of its own, gaining such a bloated significance (especially in Western cultures) that it has become virtually an end in itself, tending to define our wealth, our capacities, even our identity.
One aspect of ownership that seems to get consistently overlooked in the sometimes fevered grab for things is where ownership truly begins -- and ends. It would be difficult to look around and not conclude that mankind is the ``where.'' But in fact we need to go beyond ourselves for a truly satisfying answer.
When a possessive pronoun like mine is used in the Bible, it does not always refer to people and their belongings. Sometimes the reference is to God. In one psalm, for instance, these words are attributed to God: ``Every beast of the forest is mine...the wild beasts of the field are mine. ...the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.''2 And in Isaiah, God assures His people, ``Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.''3
We can see from such excerpts how decidedly ownership, over the centuries, has appeared to drift away from God and into the hands of people. A gain, we might think. Yet something priceless has been bartered away -- or would be if that were possible. For in mankind's claiming to be the center of creation -- believing that people can somehow replace God by themselves taking on the role of creator, owner, possessor of creation -- we, in effect, give up the one thing we really do possess: our status as God's own children.
If that sounds like just a way of saying we don't really possess anything, consider Christ Jesus' words ``I can of mine own self do nothing''4 in the light of the healings of blindness, paralysis, chronic hemorrhaging, leprosy, and deafness he accomplished. Materially the Master owned little. Yet spiritually, as God's Son, he possessed ``all power...in heaven and in earth.''5
Christian Science teaches that as God's sons and daughters we, too, reflect God's all-power. In fact, the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy,6 describes God's child, spiritual man, as ``...that which possesses no life, intelligence, nor creative power of his own, but reflects spiritually all that belongs to his Maker.''7
Knowing that our real job is to reflect rather than possess involves no sacrifice of anything that is needfully or rightfully ours in day-to-day living. We are not expected to do without food, clothing, transportation, living quarters, or a living wage. Rather these very needs are best supplied through recognizing God as the source and possessor of all good, all substance, intelligence, power, reality. Material possessiveness -- of others or of things -- can't gain a foothold in our lives (or persist in our experience) as we become more conscious of these spiritual facts. And the self-interest and fear that spur the excessive desire to buy, and to have, eventually have to give way to the higher, more satisfying motivation of doing what's in the common interest.
By letting go of what doesn't belong to us, we're in a much better position to grasp what does. And that opportunity is ours each time we take a moment to reject the assumption that we are mortal owners and consumers in a material world and choose instead to be more conscious of our nature as God's child, reflecting all that He possesses.
1Quaintance Eaton, Sutherland and Bonynge, An Intimate Biography (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1987), p. 308. 2Psalms 50:10-12. 3Isaiah 43:1. 4John 5:30. 5Matthew 28:18. 6The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 7Science and Health, p. 475. BIBLE VERSE Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17