19 May 2006

it begins with a trickle

it begins with a trickle

For Friday, May 19, 2006
Proverbs 17:14

The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out.

"A lake on the neighboring hills bursts its barriers and sweeps everything before it - men, women and children swallowed up by angry flood - awful scenes witnessed by survivors."

So began the lead article in the New York Times on 1 June 1889. The article continued, "The water began flowing over the dam or abutment at the weakest part of the mountain lake at about 1 o'clock...Three hours later the whole end of the lake gave way, sweeping everything before it..."

So began the great Johnstown flood which, in a matter of minutes, left over 2000 people dead and 30,000 without homes.

And it all began with a little trickle.

"One hot word, one peevish reflection, one angry demand, one spiteful contradiction, begets another, and that a third, and so on, till it proves like the cutting of a dam." So Matthew Henry begins his meditation on today's proverb. Once the dam has burst, there is no putting things back as they once were.

Speaking with others has always required prudence, but communications in our day are faster and better than ever: voice mail, email, cell phones, text messaging, myspace, online chat, blogging, facebook, and so on. We are able to say whatever we want, to whomever we want, whenever we want.

And with these technologies come all the attendant dangers of the tongue - of the incautious word or the ill-formed thought - to be received in circumstances beyond the speaker's ability to shape the situation, often left there to be read or listened to again, turned over in the mind of the receiver until every nuance is explored, and hurt or resentment or anger can fester and compound.

Today's proverb, therefore, goes on to warn us to "quit before the quarrel breaks out." We must exercise caution in what we say and do. We must repair the first signs of a breach in our relationships, before matters have progressed too far. And whenever possible, we must leave off before we begin, lest the situation slip from our hands.

May the love and mercy of Christ grant us prudent hearts, cautious tongues, and patient dealings.