Rudder of the tongue (Month of Proverbs)

Tongue Tied and Twisted
Image by Giant Ginkgo via Flickr

A mild answer calms wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise pours out knowledge,
but the mouth of fools spurts forth folly.
(Proverbs 15:1-2)

The Letter of James in the New Testament refers to the tongue as a rudder whose movements impact the course of events and one’s life.  He is drawing on a theme that runs all through the book of Proverbs; many of the verses of Chapter 15 have this theme.

It is one that St. Benedict picked up in writing The Rule.  He urges the cellarer to give a kind word when the item requested is unavailable. He assigns as the porter an older person who can take a message and carry a response.  And throughout The Rule, he warns against grumbling and murmuring.

Proverbs shows us both the gift and the danger of the tongue. On the one hand, it can be an instrument of peace and counsel, but on the other, an instigator of violence and folly.

The other use of the tongue is silence: to refrain from speech in order to think, to ponder, to pray, to observe, and most of all, to listen to others.  When silence is called for, all speech is folly.

The mind of the intelligent man seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.
(Proverbs 15:14)

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