Not a few have said to me, "Pastor, you don't need the microphone for me to hear you." That was not always meant as a compliment -- if you know what I mean.
Funny then, or perhaps not funny at all, that through Lent the part of Psalm 141 assigned to me in Evening Prayer includes these words. Set a watch before my mouth, O Lord, and guard the door of my lips... Those are hard words for me to chant. They are not theoretical but practical and personal.
Maybe you are someone like me -- prone to open mouth and insert foot, to speak now and think later, or nicknamed the "mouth that roared." Our patron saint could be Peter -- another big mouth that did not always serve him well.
As Lent fades away, the words will be chanted less often but the wisdom needs to be regularly heard. It occurs to me that these words may not have been as significant when the Psalmist penned them but now, in an era wherein we speak through technological means that multiply the impact of our words, they are more important than ever.
I have a friend who says "only a twit tweets." Translation: those with big mouths get into even more trouble when their words must be compacted into a few characters and then get sent all over the world with nary a qualm about who will read them or a fear that maybe you
Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.
Words can be healing and encouraging but too often they wound and destroy. How many congregations suffer because of hurtful, even hateful words, words usually whispered in secret because those kinds of words do not like the light of day and neither do their speakers? How many wounds have we caused because we spoke when we should have listened or reacted without thought and prayer? How many naysayers use words like crowbars to tear down what others have built but seldom speak positively or offer something more than criticism?
As I sing these words from the Psalm and light the incense for Evening Prayer, this is what I think about. And also Luther's explanation to the 8th Commandment. We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Lord, give me a charitable tongue. If You cannot give me that, set a watch before my mouth and guard the door of my lips...