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The power of words

The power of words

Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture explores the power of words to wound and to heal, using conversations in Downton Abbey as examples:

Of the many themes that could be teased out of this week’s Downton Abbey, one of the most striking is the power of words to hurt or to heal, to cut down or to build up. This power is acknowledged in Scripture on countless occasions. Genesis 1 describes the very act of creation as deriving through the medium of God’s spoken word, and building on this, John affirms Jesus as the Word (logos). According to Proverbs 15, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly… A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (verses 2, 4). James 3 famously warns against the dangers of unchecked speech, asserting “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (verse 6). And in Ephesians, Paul warns congregations, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29).

Ironically, that conversation — in which the aristocratic Mary and the socially stigmatized Jack Ross demonstrate profound respect for one another — demonstrates the salutary effect that carefully considered affirming words can have. Good words are even more apparent in the burgeoning relationship between Baxter and Molesley. The ever-proud Molesley, who has found his stature in life diminished, takes the initiative to speak to Baxter and draw her into conversation. She, in turn, encourages him during the church bazaar; her words literally give him strength, as he is able to outdo young fellow servant Jimmy in hammering away at the Strength-O-Meter. Their relationship also has the potential to draw Baxter away from Thomas, who corruptly manipulates language more than any other character on the show; it is little wonder Robert laments having to spend a trip abroad in his company.

But perhaps the most poignant example of words well-chosen this week comes in Daisy’s storyline. For weeks, we have seen the drama of the Alfred-Daisy-Ivy triangle, and Alfred’s proposal to Ivy seemed poised to create a conflagration of female passion. Instead, however, we see Daisy at her finest. Her lovable father-in-law Mr. Mason counsels her to set things right with Alfred while she has the opportunity. And so, what had initially seemed a perfect storm of escalating tensions becomes a tender moment when Daisy sets aside her jealousy and anger, offering kind words and a gift to Alfred. And Alfred, who has ever been thoughtful and gentle in his speech, responds graciously. Supported by the wise counsel of her father figure, Daisy is able to use words for healing; and in easily the episode’s most moving scene, the maternal Mrs. Patmore affirms Daisy’s decision by saying, “Do you know, when you brought up that basket, I was so proud of you, I felt like crying out. If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder than I am now.”

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