Words... Can't live with them; can't live without them?
Have you ever found yourself uttering words that you thought you would never hear yourself saying? Have you, at one time, suffered from the dreaded "open mouth, insert foot" disease? Have you found words to be rather harmful to you and to the ones who spoke them against you? Have you found words that were comforting beyond belief at a time when you needed to hear them most? If you answered "yes" to any of these, then you know from experience the power of words to build up or to tear down.
Here are some examples of just how powerful words can be — spoken or unspoken:
"I attended a Rob Bell event about a decade ago when he had us do an activity that I found so engaging. Each person was given a notecard and pencil as they entered the church. We each wrote something like this on the card: 'We are a part of the same body, Christ's. Treat with kindness.' We then passed the cards over two people to the left, two rows behind us and finally four people to the right from where we were seated. The point was to give the message to someone you did not know and for each person to be reminded that we were all a part of the same body. We were invited to carry the card in our wallet and to be reminded of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I carried my card for several years. –Rev. Shelly McNaughton-Lawrence, Aldersgate UMC, Olathe, Kansas."
"Said a traveler to one of the disciples, 'I have traveled a great distance to listen to the Master, but I find his words quite ordinary.'
'Don't listen to his words. Listen to his message.'
'How does one do that?'
'Take hold of a sentence that he says. Shake it well till all the words drop off. What is left will set your heart on fire.' –Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird (Crown, 2016). "
"Sometimes the most eloquent comment that can be made, in the wake of a terribly traumatic experience, is to say simply, 'There are no words.'
Most everywhere we go, we're surrounded by a sea of words: meaningless chatter beamed at us from all angles. Yet, when we go in search of something profoundly healing to say to another who's in pain, so often we come up short.
Better, in such times, to simply admit our linguistic poverty and focus on just being present. Sometimes there really are no words."- author unknown.
There's a story about a society woman in London who attended two dinner parties, a week apart. At the first, she was seated next to the prime minister, William Gladstone. At the second, she found herself next to Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the opposition party. A friend later asked her what she thought of the two men.
"When I left the dining room after sitting with Mr. Gladstone," she said, "I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England."
Such is the power of words to build up. In our text for Sunday, James helps us to understand this power, and how we can put away those words (and actions) that hurt and put on words (and actions) that heal.