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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | James 3:1–12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (NRSV)

I hear from my kids that they still say “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”

Oh, but we know, don’t we, that this is simply not true.

There are words I have heard that have stung long past what feels reasonable and hurtful words I have said that still fill me with shame.

These days I would say almost nothing we do has as much power as our words. They can have impact beyond imagining, all the more so if you speak from a position of power or in a place where your words may pass on further than you intended.

This can be paralyzing, and I have to wonder its impact on those of us who have found ourselves previously silenced, whether through personal or societal trauma or by constant criticism of what or how we would speak. I still shake when it comes time to talk about those things most meaningful to me.

So how to go forward?

I take heart from a prayer once given to me, and a challenge given to us all.

The prayer: “Lord, may I hear what I need to hear, and say what I need to say, according to your will.” This is the wind in my sails.

And the challenge? To be open to, no, to embrace feedback. To seek out and let in truth-tellers from my life and from the culture around me. They are my rudder.

Lord, I pray my words may be more blessing than curse, that through your grace I might find the strength to speak, and through your prophets, now and through time, I might be corrected and led. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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