In the letter of “James”, one of the few Gospel documents in which the writer names himself, we are told about how a tongue, a wee small thing, is like the rudder of a boat. Although both are tiny compared to the object to which they belong, they have great influence over them. Rudders allow the ship to be steered wherever the pilot desires. It is under their control and its effects are known. The tongue, however, is also under the control of its owner, but its effects are not always as easily predicted. While the rudder only reacts with the water, and does so predictably, the words the tongue helps to create can land on the desired audience or the wrong one. What’s more, those words might not be appropriate or helpful even for the desired listener. Indeed, their influence might not be at all what the speaker desires. Such is the tongue’s power.
I wonder what James would make of a propeller and its effect of moving a ship forward. While he would have been familiar with oars and sails, the fairly recent innovation of a spinning set of blades to move a boat would have been completely unknown, probably even inconceivable, to him.
Not to put words into James’ mouth, I’d like to take moment to play with the thought of how he might have run with the idea.
“Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are powered by a very small propeller wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, a thought is a small part of the body, but it causes great motion.”
The propeller, usually unseen in the water beneath a boat, moves the boat forward according to the pilot’s will to drive the boat forward or backwards. Thoughts, likewise, move us forward, according to our will. One might be the ultimate expression of our will, others might be what formulates that will, yet others may decry or undermine our will. Our thoughts propel our words, our actions and even our reactions and even though they are invisible often have a very visible influence on us.
Our tongue is not always needed, just as the rudder only comes into play when the pilot wishes to change direction. Our thoughts, however, just like the propeller, never stop if we are moving anywhere in life. When a the propeller stops, the boat simply becomes an oddly shaped structure floating on the water. When our thoughts stop, we become nothing. Paraphrasing Descartes very roughly, to think is to be.
Our thoughts, although invisible, make us who we are. Like a propeller, they can drive us forwards or backwards. Positive thoughts move us ahead, negative ones can hold us back or cause us harm. Just like the tongue and the propeller, they are under our control. It is up to us to choose which way we are going, whether it’s stagnating or moving backwards, or growing, maturing and moving forwards. Or, to play with James’ words again:
“With our thoughts we can honour our Creator, and with them we dishonour the one in whose likeness we have been made.” So, what way are your thoughts leading you?