Delights of Discipline

‘Discipline’ can be overused when it comes from a disciplinarian with an axe to grind. But discipline – the steady practices of disciples – can lead to wonders, too.

Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. – Galatians 3:24-26 (NRSV)

“Discipline” can be overused. It can mean “giving up fire for form,” as Robert Frost wrote, stifling the free manifestations of inward delight or anguish.

Discipline can be overused when it comes from a disciplinarian with an axe to grind, or from someone whose own insecurity leads them to quash the vibrant spirit of those in their charge. So, “no longer subject to a disciplinarian” can sound like a relief.

But discipline – the steady practices of disciples – can lead to wonders, too. Some time ago at Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, I watched ice dancers gliding, arcing, spinning, leaping through the warm air across a hard plastic that imitated the qualities of frozen water. I marveled at the intensely heartfelt expression, shaped through the discipline of training. It looked like faith: a steady building up of trust in what God has made possible for those bodies. I was bowled over by the creativity of the engineer who came up with the ice substitute. That looked like faith, too: the perception of possibilities in a piece of plastic that could transform an evening.

Prayer
O Christ of delightful discipline, may I learn from you the faithful practice that leads to exuberant dance, startling invention, unconditional grace. Amen.

About the Author
The Rev. Dr. John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of the Congregational Church of Salisbury (CT).