Yesterday I posted an outpouring here that began “Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep,” and this morning I feel called to report that I’ve been corrected. My God-knowing organ, or faculty, is my conscience, as Quakers have been insisting for centuries, and it was awake enough to rebuke me, and, thank God, I was alert enough to pick up the rebuke.
Last night, in conversation, I referred to a third party as “a prick,” although I qualified my statement by saying that I sometimes felt annoyed by the man, but could see his admirable qualities and his unique value to the community, and made it a point to pray for him. I then retired to the bedroom, where I found that a loosely-capped fountain pen in my breast pocket had come undone and left a big ugly stain on what had been my favorite shirt. And that wasn’t all: during the evening I’d developed a painful inflammation on the right side of my tongue. (“Probably viral,” I’d thought. “It’ll pass soon enough.”) The inflammation was reduced this morning, but still there. The two mishaps, with my pen and my tongue, were odd enough coincidences to set me to querying myself when I sat for morning worship: was there a message for me in them? And yes, there was.
I’m called to a ministry of healing prayer, and I’m not to speak ill of a brother or sister for whom Christ died. Since Christ died for all, that means I’m not to speak ill of anyone. I may say, truthfully, that so-and-so angers or annoys me, or has hurt me, or in my eyes frequently exhibits bad judgment, a weakness of character, or behavior that I find unacceptable. But whoever it is, I’m under a commandment to love him or her, and if I belittle a person by reducing him to one (unjustly) ill-famed body part, I’ve weakened my own prayers for him and proven myself a hypocrite as far as my ministry of healing prayer goes. The whole third chapter of the Epistle of James addresses this: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”
Of all things I do that I wouldn’t want to weaken, I don’t want to weaken my prayers for others’ good. Patanjali warns that even to take satisfaction in the humiliation or suffering of others “bears fruit in endless suffering and ignorance,” and urges us to use that thought to correct other thoughts that may infect our heart (Yoga Sutras 2:34). There’s enough suffering and ignorance in the world already.
My blog-posting before the “Help, help!” one was entitled “A heart that’s right in the sight of God,” and in it I revealed that I was tempted to call some persons “damnable blasphemers,” and “rolled Ezekiel 16:63 around in my mouth like a delicious throat-lozenge of fire.” Well, it shouldn’t surprise me to get an inflammation in my mouth from such a throat-lozenge, I reflected. Ezekiel 16:63 reads, in part, “thou mayest… never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done.” For a moment I experienced myself as standing silent before God, forbidden to open my mouth, even in prayer. It was not a pleasant situation to be in. Then I felt permission granted.
Oh, and one more thing: neither am I to speak ill of myself. I erred; I was corrected; I repented; I felt forgiven, but instructed to write up the experience and share it. My tongue’s now almost back to normal, and most of the stain’s washed out of the shirt.
And if you, like me, grieve that our God-knowing faculty isn’t better developed, know that God surely understands our grief and is working on the problem. Note that Jesus addressed the problem in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and in John 14:8-9; the Apostles address it in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, in 1 John 2:27 and 4:7-8, and elsewhere.