Word Magazine October 2001 Page 26


By Very Rev. Stephen Rogers

Never before in the history of humanity have there been so many opportunities to talk. Talk shows are all the rage. Chat rooms on the internet consume hours of people’s time. Cell phones, beepers, faxes, community-access television, desk-top publishing, call-in radio … there’s no question about it, we have an opinion and we want to be heard.

Sure, we talk to work out our problems. Oftentimes, however, our talk creates more problems than it solves. In many situations a little silence would go a long way. Too much talking usually leads to trouble and sometimes to downright danger.

St. James, the brother of our Lord and first bishop of Jeru­salem, certainly understood the potential destructive power of the tongue. In his epistle, St. James (commemorated on the 23rd of this month) powerfully addresses the danger of unbridled speech. “Look also at the ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so” (James 3:4-10).

Powerful words from a man who understood the power of words.

James understood our words are a reflection of who we really are. Unfortunately, what is most often revealed is that we are ruled by our pride. Just as that tiny rudder sets the ship on its course, our tongue steers us toward that which we desire most — that our own willful­ness and pride be imposed on the people and circumstances around us. It is our pride that causes us to think we can control and therefore we lose control. St. John of the Ladder says:

“Talkativeness is the throne of pride on which it loves to preen itself and show off.” More often than not, when we lose control of our tongues, we will ultimately lose control of our whole selves. “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). How much emotional and spiritual harm (and in some cases even physical harm) we could save ourselves from if we learned to control our tongue.

The truth is, he or she who makes no effort to control the tongue has lost sight of his or her relationship with God. “If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26). Given the power of the tongue to damage and destroy, is it any wonder that at every Vespers service we chant, “Set a watch O Lord before my mouth and a protecting door about my lips” (Psalm 140).

Hearing St. James’ warnings about the tongue, let us remember he is addressing the Church. In the very place we need to most control our tongue, we are most prone to argue, gossip and judge. St. James says it best: “My brethren, these things ought not be so.”