I fell asleep while reading Persuasion. All the Jane Austen novels are worth reading (though Mansfield Park perhaps only once) but it is Persuasion that I return to time and time again. It is my literary comfort food. Among other things, the story is a demonstration of the terrible power of words. Words to persuade and convince, words to manipulate, words to hide behind, and words left unspoken for far too long. Only when words are spoken in humble honesty, without guile but with hope and courage, only then are things set aright and happiness slips into the grasp of the long suffering hero and heroine.
As this and other things this week have me considering the power of our words, the passage from James Chapter 3 came aptly to mind.
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.” (vv. 3-10)
It’s a dire outlook on human communication but one that is unfortunately justified again and again. With the same mouth we worship God on Sunday mornings then tear down our neighbor, a priceless human being made in the image of God. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so…” This need not be so. That comment cuts me to the quick. Encouragement and discouragement; love and hate; hope and fear; honesty and dishonesty; and on and on. Are we even aware of the fires we set with our words? Daily we engage in communication with one another, from the spouse to the stranger, and none of our words are without effect. None of them.
If we consider the power of our words for ill, are they not equally capable of good? Were we but more conscious of ourselves, more attuned to the responses of the other person, more concerned with building up another than ourselves… oh the good that could be done. Instead of violent fires, the flames set might be lamps added to one another’s paths – paths often difficult enough to walk without us multiplying the difficulty for each other. Yes, the good that could be done.