Some things I have learned #24

Subtitle: Or, at the least, I think I believe

Sub-subtitle: Or, at the most, I believe I know

Note: First posted on November 28, 2016 and, here, revised.


A word spoken cannot be unspoken.

The consequences, long-lived; ever-widening, never-ending as the proverbial ripples caused by a stone cast into a pond.[1]

A word spoken cannot be unspoken.

I think of the admonishment of the Apostle James; an advisement to take care with the words we share:

The tongue is a small member, yet…how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.[2]

A word spoken cannot be unspoken.

I think of that olden reprimand of children. At times, in public (indeed, today in my hearing in a grocery store aisle) as an apology to passersby for unruly behavior: “S/he’s bad!” At times, in private, scolding the child: “You’re bad!”[3]

A word spoken cannot be unspoken.

I think of that boundary-breaking, rabble-rousing comedian, social activist, and critic Lenny Bruce.[4] In one of his famous (infamous?) routines, Bruce lacerated the air with a repeated torrent of denigrating epithets about every identifiable ethnic and racial group. His aim? To delegitimize those words by their overuse; rendering them ineffectual elements in the arsenal of the wounding weaponry of racism and nativism. A brilliant, even noble effort. But it didn’t work. The words remain. Their use always increasing with society’s rising anxiety over any movement toward universal equality and inclusivity.

A word spoken cannot be unspoken.

I think that the same is true of words of acclamation. Still, it seems that we tend to remember and ruminate more on the negative than the positive.[5]

Nevertheless, as a Christian, there is one eternal occasion of a word spoken that cannot be unspoken that enlightens my mind, lightens my heart, emboldens my soul, enlivens my spirit.

As John the Evangelist wrote:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.[6]

The Word, the Divine logos, took human flesh in Jesus, entering the realm of time and space, standing on the stage of human history. John’s wondrous statement, a cascade of words about the Word linked by the word “and”, testifies that God’s life-giving power is unconquerable, that God’s light-bearing presence is inextinguishable, that no matter how ebbs the tide or how dark the day, God’s life and light prevail.

For the Word spoken cannot be unspoken.

Thanks be to God!

© 2021 PRA


[1] I believe this to be true also of words emailed, texted, tweeted, or otherwise set aloft in the universe of cyber-communication, despite the capacity of electronic deletion.

[2] The Epistle of James 3.5a, c, 6a, 9-10a

[3] In either case, what is missed, I think, is an effort to discipline by conveying to our children the desired or required behavior rather than teaching our children that we believe them to be inherently disorderly. Moreover, whether “badness” is a genetic predisposition or a learned behavior, when fault is to be assessed, then, it seems to me, in the name of justice, it is ours to claim as the principal adults in the child’s life and, generally, as society at large. Thus, it would be fairer to say, “We’re bad.”

[4] Leonard Alfred Schneider (1925-1966)

[5] Perhaps it is our innate psychology that thinks more about the bad and feels more about the good that makes the former longer lasting in the realms of our recollections and reflections and the latter more ephemeral.

[6] The Gospel of John 1.1-5, 14a (my emphases)

3 thoughts on “Some things I have learned #24

  1. Thank you for this Paul!! I was raised on this topic… I can still hear my grandmother saying “Once you SAY IT, you can’t take it back”…. it’s etched in stone in my mind!! You’re so right about focusing on the negative things said, but that we must also realize acclamations are just an important and those words too can’t be unspoken! Thank you for sharing such uplifting words that remind us that we have so much for which we must be grateful!!

    Much love!


    1. Amen and amen. No word, once uttered, can be unuttered, which applies as much to gracious words as to not-so-gracious words. And, especially, to the Word of God spoken into the flesh of Jesus!

      And though I did not know your grandmother, I know you, and, knowing your life, how you live, and what you value, through you, I can hear her say, “Once you say it, you can’t take it back.” Bless her. Bless you.



  2. First, Full Disclosure:
    I am an atheist. This has always been my case.
    That said, my Native Texan pedigree and my raising in Texas has taught me respect for the Folks of Faith.

    I have just now followed your blog because I can already see we seem to share some philosophies.
    Looking forward to returning here to dive deeper into your writing.



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