Recently, one of the daily office readings for yesterday was James 1:19-27, which includes this instruction.
Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
It goes on to say:
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
James makes this demand of us. As we live and move in a world where it seems we are surrounded by noise, the scripture tells us to be quiet. In a culture that gives the most priority to the loudest, we receive a challenge to speak and even to live softly.
As I heard these words, I recalled the previous weekend. I had been with the Kentucky Regional Men’s Chorus for their annual retreat. I had listened and participated with a group of men who sang their hearts out. I experienced the dynamic range of expression as part of the group.
Hearing the instruction to be slow to speak reminded me how much more challenging the soft passages are. It takes more breath control to sing softly. You need enough support to sustain the sound and to maintain pitch, but with too much you stick out. The soft passages require increased concentration, more attention to how your sound is blending with the sound of the group.
It’s harder to sing softly.
Perhaps that’s why James felt the need to make this instruction. Maybe bridling our tongues has always been a challenge. It may be that people of faith have always had trouble being quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s just hard.
Living softly, like singing softly, carries a greater degree of difficulty. It requires control, support enough to contribute without sticking out. Living softly calls for closer listening, being certain that you hear how you fit into the sound of the whole.
We are a people of grace, and grace can only be applied softly. It’s a challenge, but let our witness, then, be lives that are quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Dean Phelps, Interim Regional Minister