James 3:10 & 11, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
I once lived by a spring. I had grown up for some years running in the woods and playing in and around little spring-fed creeks, but then I moved and lived next to a bonafide right-there-in-front-of-me spring, a hole in the ground that simply gave and gave and gave. It fed several stock tanks and then a creek that meandered off somewhere past my fields of wandering. That spring held my imagination. It was both cool and scary… it was primal.
James has a lot to say about our tongues and our words, and I’ve always enjoyed his poetic bent. He won’t just say, “Hey! Stop thinking you can use your words to bless and curse. Hypocrisy and doubled-mindedness like that is no good. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Instead he says, “Think about your identity and nature. What is your primal identity? Is yours a nature that blesses or a nature that curses? Is your primal well of being a source of pure, sweet thought and word? Or is that essential spring of your life a salty wasteland that doesn’t give life?”
James doesn’t think we can cultivate two streams of life, one of cursing and one of praising, one of sweetness and one of saltiness, but instead he expects us to choose. In the context of the passage he points to a problem with thinking we will praise God but curse God’s created people. He doesn’t believe we can be two people, reserving respect, dignity and praise for the Creator while living a life of cursing, reviling and destruction with the created. It’s my very love and respect for God that becomes the basis of my love and respect of God’s created people.
I don’t have the option of loving God and hating people. I don’t have the option of being a “fig tree” with God and a “grapevine” with people. James insists that I be a whole person whose primal well-spring is consistent, sincere and good. And that is going to take some intention and some effort.
James alludes to it being a matter of “maturity” and that’s a good word for it. This consistent wellspring of my life will be the product of growth and development. It has been chosen and pursued. It’s no accident. Neither a fig tree nor a grapevine will reach maturity on accident, but by the collusion of their nature, their cellular intent and the proper environmental conditions. As humans we have this amazing gift of conscience and consciousness. We are co-creators even as we are part of the created. So we are not just fig trees and grapevines; we are participants in making ourselves. Will we choose the best fruit, a consistent fruit and a “praiseful” fruit for our neighbors?
I’m thinking back on that spring when I was young and the way it made me a little fearful. Clear, sweet water came from it, but I couldn’t see the bottom. There was no end to it’s giving. Maybe that’s my fear with civility. If I open that well in my life and give myself to it, where will it end? Who will come to drink of that well? Will I be emptied and drained completely? Can my well keep me refreshed while having to give so much to others? If I live a life toward the created that I live toward the Creator, will they abuse the gift? Will they understand? Will they be wasteful of it? Will they be deserving?
Faith says I can give my well to God. Faith says that I can trust God with the bottom I can’t see. Jesus promised a Samaritan woman that he would provide a drink of water that would become an internal wellspring of life (John 4). He promised it to anyone who came to him for a drink. There is my seed-spring, my well-beginning. So the intent is the starting place, and then comes the long walk of effort. It feels cool and kinda scary. My faith says I can do this, but I still get a bit wibbly inside when I can’t see the bottom.