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What's Got a Hold of Your Tongue?


Ever been in a situation in which you couldn't find any words to say? Your brain kept searching, even rehearsing, but not one syllable would come out. Maybe you were overwhelmed. Or awed. Or horrified. Or deeply moved. You wanted to say the right thing. Be helpful. Maybe profound. And there were simply no words. We commonly ask, "Cat got your tongue?" in these circumstances. It's an awful expression really. But often so is the experience of not having anything to say.

On the flip side, at times our tongues flap much too loosely. Or long. Or randomly. Maybe you've heard people in the past two years speak of "COVID mouth." When we could finally be together again it was as if we had been marooned on an island for a decade! Sometimes we talk a lot so there won't be silence. Sometimes we just need to be heard. Always we wonder if anyone is listening. And there can be such a difference between hearing and listening!

Thomas Kirkpatrick published a book titled Communication in the Church. In it he asserts that hearing is what we do with our ears. Listening is what happens between our ears. Kirkpatrick writes, "Most human communication is purposeful. There are reasons we initiate conversation and there are outcomes we expect. Speakers typically seek to inform, to persuade, or to entertain their listeners. Not surprisingly, listeners typically seek to understand, to decide, or to enjoy what speakers say. What is surprising is how little attention we pay to purposeful listening. In public-speaking courses, we learn how to prepare and deliver informative speeches, persuasive speeches, and entertaining speeches. But where do we learn how to listen for understanding, for making decisions, and for enjoyment?"

When was the last time you can recall someone saying something to you that touched you deeply? Moved you to tears? Maybe even changed your life in some way? That's the power of language. And it is one of the greatest gifts we've been given. Often taken for granted. Sometimes abused. But to be able to express ourselves when we've got something significant to communicate is sheer grace. But it comes with a price of course. We might be misunderstood. We could be cut off or cut down. Or our carefully chosen words may roll off our tongues and fall on deaf ears.

Preacher, teacher, and prolific author Tom Long has said of worship that it is "a kind of dress rehearsal for human speech outside of the sanctuary." Dubbing a worship service "God's language school" Long claims "The kind of genuine, emotionally rich, hopeful, faithful, courageous, grittily honest speech that makes up truthful worship is countercultural in a world where talk is often cheap and evasive, and it prepares us for speaking in the rest of our lives in ways that are surprisingly fresh and hopeful and healing." As Christians gather to celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, we may see a clear connection: the disciples spoke and the people on the streets heard. And they were disturbed. Because as they listened, they understood. God's Spirit had gotten a hold of the disciples' tongues and had given them something to listen to!

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