On the Care of Words and the Cultivation of Language
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
Prayer of the Day: Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:4.
It is more than a little unsettling to be told that we are so well understood that our very thoughts are known before they find their way into words. More disturbing still is Jesus’ warning that, on the day of judgment, “people will render account for every careless word they utter.” Matthew 12:36. That accounting came due with a vengeance last week. If the horrific events we witnessed five days ago have taught us anything, it is that words are powerful and speech has consequences. Words maliciously fashioned into lies and employed to trigger raw anger can incite violence. That is exactly what we saw on Wednesday as an angry mob sacked the United States Capital.
Sometimes, however, we misspeak without intending harm. Often, the consequences of our words do not become clear until after they have passed our lips. Who among us does not regret words spoken carelessly, ignorantly or in anger? One of the less fortunate characteristics of texts, e-mails and social media is that through them words carelessly uttered can spread faster and further to a larger audience than ever before. Moreover, once they are out in cyberspace, ill advised words are practically impossible to erase, recall or correct.
As one whose careers, both in law and in parish ministry, involved working with words, I take this call to circumspection in our use of language seriously. Read more