Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips! Psalm 141:3
Moments of levity are sometimes few and far between in this time of pandemic. People are annoyed that we are taking this too seriously, or not seriously enough and some don’t know what to think. A brother priest and I were talking about how priests need to wear masks in order to distribute Holy Communion. He joked with me that now it’s like we have to put on another vestment. I joked with him that I had several masks made so that they color-coordinate with my vestments. And then he said, “will there be a prayer we have to say when we put our masks on, just like there is for our other vestments?” To which I replied, “Yes, probably Psalm 141 would be appropriate, ‘set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips!”
Now, all kidding aside. Many of us are putting on masks each day. I know I often put one on several times a day, for interactions with parishioners, trips to the store, and of course to distribute Holy Communion. And I have been reflecting on this verse from Psalm 141 since this conversation the other priest.
We have been told by medical authorities that a mask does not protect you from others, but protects others from you. Imagine if every time you put a mask on, you prayed this verse from Psalm 141. It doesn’t say, “set a guard over the mouths of others,” but “set a guard over my mouth.” Just as with the mask, praying does not necessarily protect us from others, but can help protect others from us. Praying isn’t going to stop our neighbor from being unkind to us, but can certainly help us be more kind to our neighbor.
For however long we have to wear masks (and hopefully that isn’t for too long) and long after this pandemic is over, it would be helpful to remember this verse of the Psalms, and pray that God will put a “spiritual” mask over our mouths, to keep watch over the door of our lips, to protect us from harming others with our words, and to protect others from the words we may say.
The coronavirus is identified as a pandemic because of how many countries it has reached. It has crisscrossed the whole world. Even more prominent and I dare say deadly than the coronavirus, is the disease of the mouth called “gossip” that we all have. Gossip has been used to slander, injure, embarrass and malign others for centuries. It has cost reputations, relationships, jobs and even lives. Right now the world is concerned about defeating the coronavirus and is promoting the use of masks to help in this fight. At the same time, we should be also concerned about the spread of “illness” caused by our mouths, and we should promote the use of “masks” to quiet our tongues. While we do not know (and we may never know) the cause the coronavirus, we know very well the cause and cure of gossip. It is caused 100% by us. The cure lies 100% with us. The vaccine is not a one-time inoculation but a daily discipline.
Just as harmful as gossip is the tendency to belittle, criticize and discourage. There is of course a way to correct in a constructive rather than a destructive way. There is a great need for encouraging others and for others to receive encouragement. And so the guard over our mouths isn’t just for destructive gossip but for inadvertent criticism and discouragement.
The strongest weapon we have, for good or for evil, is our mouths. The mouth has the power to build up and to destroy. It doesn’t require money or time to do either. We can change someone’s outlook from bad to good, or from good to bad, in mere seconds based on what we say.
There are many verses of Scripture that when prayed can change our lives. I would certainly put Psalm 141: 3 in the top ten. This is the prayer against the disease that we all have. As you put your mask on today, offer this verse of Psalm 141 as your prayer. And when the season of wearing masks is open, repeat this verse throughout the day, asking God to safeguard not only what comes out of our mouths, but the people who hear what comes out of them. Ask God to be with you in conversations and confrontations, leaning on this verse as the prayer through which to ask God for this.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Let’s be more intentional about guarding our mouths, for the protection and for love of our neighbors.
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