From the Letter of James:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – James 1:26 (NRSV) – May 7, 2013.)

Silent CloisterThere are a lot of people today who claim to be religious but do not bridle their tongues. Just spend a few hours searching the internet. Limit yourself even to Facebook. Plenty of “religious” people saying lots of, shall we say, non-religious things. I won’t say their religion is worthless, but I do wonder how much they actually value their religion and what it teaches.

But what about those who do not think they are religious? You know, the ones who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). Sometimes they don’t do a very good job of bridling their tongues either. Would James condemn their spirituality as worthless? Would James even acknowledge a difference between religion and spirituality? Would he rather not focus on the unbridled tongue which seems to be a commonality between many so-called religious and many so-called SBNRs?

Some of the religious are so busy defending religion against the SBNRs. Some of the SBNRs are so busy denouncing religion as unnecessary. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if both would simply bridle their tongues for a while and enter into silence?

In the Ignatian spiritual tradition, silence is a mark of spiritual maturity. In the Hindu tradition, the sages teach that if we have something to say that is truthful, kind, or useful, we should say it; if what we have to say is not, we should not say it. In some Muslim teachings, it is said that the voice of the soul is in love with silence and will only speak when its beloved comes; conversation with this voice, which speaks for the inner spiritual world, is impossible in the absence of silence.

We may claim to be religious. We may claim to be spiritual. But if we do not bridle our tongues and spend time in silence, we are neither. If we do, if we enter into silence, we may find that there is no difference between them and that we are both.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.