Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Tongue

Wednesday, September 5, 2007 -- Week of Proper 17

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 982)
Psalms 38 (morning) 119:25-48 (evening)
1 Kings 9:24 - 10:13
James 3:1-12
Mark 15:1-11

I remember seriously considering never speaking again. It was in my youth, and I was seriously considering my situation before God. I read the scriptures with earnestness and with that simple trust that characterizes early faith. (In many ways, I find myself moving back toward that simple trust as I age; a trust now more ambiguously informed, returning to its simplicity. That's another reflection, I guess.)

This third chapter of James speaks with powerful, self-evident truth. "How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire." How often I have spoken impulsively and created fire. How many problems I have created for myself and others by my unreflective speech. Earlier James has advised "let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger." In this passage he indicts the tongue as being incurably spoiled. Natural objects are consistent and whole. A spring gives only one kind of water; a tree only one species of fruit; you can't get fresh water from salt water. Everyone knows that harm comes out of the mouth, and that defiling incurably infects the whole. "No one can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison."

James' argument is as convincing now as it was to me when I was young. "For all of us make many mistakes," he says. What if I simply refrained from speaking, I thought, except when I had seriously considered, and I knew my speech would be without rancor or fault? I knew a few kids in school who I thought didn't speak. At least they didn't talk in class like I did. And they didn't get in trouble in class like I did. Diane Oliphant. I had known her for years. I hadn't heard her say three words. And Diane Oliphant never got in trouble. The teachers obviously liked her. What if I did like Diane Oliphant and simply said nothing.

Of course, it was impossible. I'm Lowell Grisham, not Diane Oliphant. I tried to keep my mouth shut, but I was unable to bridle it. I would go maybe as long as one morning, but something would happen, and I would pipe up. I caught myself, and tried again. Usually it took only minutes, and I had failed again. It was impossible. I couldn't control my tongue.

My failure led to a pretty critical crossroad. Trying to control my tongue was the most impossible thing I had ever encountered. Yet, there is was in the scripture. A clear, very straightforward admonition. No slippery interpretation would get me around it. The feeling of condemnation weighed heavily. How do I escape this dilemma?

Part of me just wanted to run. This religion thing isn't working. I can't do it. It only makes me feel bad. Quit.

Part of me was tempted to believe I might pull this tongue-taming off with enough practice over time. Naaahh. No way.

So I wound up in the creative tension I've been living with all my life.

The ideal stands as a light before me. Think before you speak. Say nothing that is imperfect.

My status as one who cannot live up to this perfection is undeniable. No point living in drama. My tongue is permanently uncontrollable.

But God loves me anyway; Jesus accepts and forgives my stupid mouth; and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I sometimes say what is right and good and helpful. In fact, the only way my mouth can contribute to God's healing work in the world is for my tongue to wag appropriately. It's worth the risk. And with some self-awareness and discipline, with some practice and some surrender, over time, there might be both moments of oral grace, and the potential of minor systemic improvement of speech. All else I surrender in confession to God.

Been there since childhood.



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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow ... so how do you always know what we need to hear lol..
no realy , even yesterday i felt i need to just shut up (at home).. but i could not.
lots of times i think i should just be quiet but i rarely have the streanth to do so.
God works threw us even when we don't know it i supose.
I am sure glad you didn't stay quiet Lowell.. your gift, your grace shines threw in the words i have seen/heard..
blessings and joys,

ps last night was amazing at Healing Touch at St. Pauls blessings and thanks for every one for all there gifts!!

blessings to all, Jen Cole (can't remeber my password so i send these anonymous.. but sign it

At 9:43 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

No one can tame the Internet -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Let me stop and pray before I type or hit the "Enter" button. We humans cannot tame our thoughts, tongues, or typing by ourselves. We need help, the process of humbling ourselves to ask for help is one of the stumbling blocks to getting that help.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is a big leap to say Jesus accepts your stupid mouth. He will forgive, of course. Acceptance, and the it's worth the risk comment, is only encouraging the problem. Reg golb


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