James 1:17-27Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Language is fundamental to the experience of being human. In fact it is so important to us that some philosophers have argued that language precedes experience. In other words we can’t fully experience something that we don’t have words to describe. We all know that our experiences can be significantly influenced by the words someone else has used to describe them. If that wasn’t the case, advertising would never work. We use language not only to communicate experience but to create expectations and to influence behavior.
God used language to create the world. ‘God said let there be light and there was Light.’(Gen1:3) “In the beginning was the Word” says John’s gospel (John1:1). As the Epistle of James says in today’s New Testament reading, ‘In fulfillment of God’s own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ Language is not only fundamental to who we are but it is fundamental to creation. Language is creative. Language enables us to co-operate and to build things and organizations to do much more then we can do as individuals.
This is why James says we should guard or bridle our tongues, and Jesus says that it is not what we eat that makes us unclean but what comes out of us, from our intentions. We express our intentions in language. Language can break down and destroy, language can build up and unite. This morning I want to reflect on the qualities of language that heals. To heal means to make whole. Each one of us is in need of healing. Many of us long for healing for our physical problems, for others it is emotional or spiritual healing we need. Given that we are mortal, healing does not always look like being cured. Healing may be continuing to experience pain and difficulty but to do so with a deeper and deeper awareness of God’s grace with us, or simply to bear the pain gracefully. The language we use in our self-talk and in our conversations with others can bring greater healing.
Healing language acknowledges things the way they are, it builds up, and it reflects God’s grace.
It certainly isn’t language which is dishonest.
When I first moved to the States I thought when people said ‘Hi, How are you doing?’ that they actually wanted an answer. It took me a while to stop being offended when people asked how I was and didn’t stay for an answer. It also took a while for me to stop feeling dishonest when I replied “Fine, thanks. How about you?” I am not always fine, in fact I’m can usually find something to complain about. I now know that ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ is a ritual exchange which is not meaningless but neither is it expected to be truly honest.
But Americans have a tendency to think that we should always accentuate the positive and this can lead to an unintentional dishonesty. Healing speech acknowledges the pain but also God’s grace. ‘Yes it hurts but it’s not unbearable. Thank God for painkillers.’ Healing speech is humble in that it does not try to diminish someone else’s experience nor does it puff up the speaker’s. It tells things like they are. Not ‘Well, buck up and try to look on the sunny side’, but ‘I can tell this is a difficult time for you right now, I’ll pray that God will help you to find the light at the end of the tunnel.’
Healing speech builds up. It makes people feel better and it contributes positively to the community. Some people have a gift for appreciating others. They can see positive things about them and give appreciative feedback. The rest of us have to work at it. We all know how good it feels when someone says, “You know Joe, one of the things I really appreciate about you is…” or when someone says “I am grateful for the way you do…” It builds us up, not in a puffed up ego sense but in the way it helps us to feel appreciated and part of the community. Sometimes we have to really think about ways to appreciate others but every time we do so from a place of honesty and humility we build up community. I say from a place of humility because it is possible to use appreciating someone else as a way of making yourself seem more important. “Oh Mary Joe, I do appreciate you cleaning the bathroom – it means I won’t have to do it this week.” Healing language comes from our soul-center not our ego.
Healing speech builds up the community because it looks for areas of agreement before disagreement. It acknowledges each person’s wisdom and their contribution. Rather than harping on problems, it looks for solutions and is patient with process.
Healing speech reflects God’s grace. It always comes from a place of deep respect for the other person. One of the astonishing things about God is that she loves everyone equally. When I find myself shying away from someone or feeling judgmental, I try to think about the fact that God loves them just as much as me. Healing speech recognizes that Christ is in each being even if we can’t see it. Healing speech comes from the Christ in me and reaches out to the Christ in you. It doesn’t necessarily include language about God, but often it does.
Healing and faith are intricately bound up with each other. The more we are able to trust God’s graciousness, the more we will experience healing. The more we experience healing the more we are able to open up to God’s grace. Language about God can help to increase our faith. As we share our glimmers of God’s presence, the brighter they become. I am grateful that I get to preach quite often because it always gives me a new and deeper understanding of how God works in our lives. Articulating how we experience God is healing for ourselves and others. (Providing it comes from that place of the God in me greeting the God in you.) Preaching pious platitudes to each other is neither healing nor helpful.
‘I am grateful that God has given me this experience’. “When I feel that things are getting on top of me I try to turn it all over to God.” “Sometimes it helps me to sit quietly and remember that God is here and God loves me.” Those are examples of God-talk which can be healing. Of course it would be absurd to create a list of healing sentences, like a foreign language phrasebook, but it is helpful to think through some statements which are authentic for you so when the opportunity arises you can contribute to the healing of the community and the healing of the world by using healing language.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus said that it is from the heart that evil intentions come. It is also from the heart that healing intentions come. Today we will be using the healing language of prayer for each other. May this be the beginning of a discipline of holding healing intentions in our hearts and using healing language with our tongues.