St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Maple Glen, Pennsylvania

The Art of Discipline

Discipline. Too often when we consider “discipline” we think of punishment. “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” we quote. But what if “discipline” is the process by which we become more Christ-like?

Donald Coggan, an Archbishop of Canterbury observed, “I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made in the image of God but with the image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think.”

In Christian tradition “discipline” is better understood as the process through which one chooses the endeavors and relationships to which he/she will devote his/her waking hours so that one may claim the image of God in the midst of a world in which superficiality and instant gratification are the rule.

There is much that vies for our energy and time in current culture. Our children and grandchildren are involved in countless activities that consume their waking hours leaving no time for reflection and stillness, nor any understanding of what to do with silence when it comes. In a moment of silence the average child is “bored”. We have the possibility of surfing 500 cable stations or spending our waking surfing the internet or living in a world of virtual reality.

The real world can only be understood when we engage the “Mystery.” God’s image in the world is made increasingly murky as we fail to engage the “author and finisher of faith” who alone can show us life abundant. The resulting loss of real life and relationship results in a downward spiral toward alienation, loneliness and violence. The internet gives us access to more information and better understanding (perhaps) than ever before, but we are no wiser. From God alone does wisdom grow.

The art of discipline requires that we know that if we do not choose what must be most important to us, we will be overwhelmed by the tyranny of the irrelevant. Archbishop Coggan realized that in order for him to claim his creation in the image of God, he must enter into the “classical Christian disciplines” of meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, service, confession, fellowship and celebration. He became convinced that loving God with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and his neighbor as himself could only be accomplished through the daily disciplines. Over the course of his lifetime these disciplines formed him in wisdom, love, justice, kindness and humility.

While it is possible to work on these disciplines in personal worship of God, experience shows that we are best formed into the image of Christ when we live in the messiness of faith community where apology, repentance and forgiveness are becoming the hallmarks of the Godly life.

Discipline is a daily process, begun in small ways, like greeting the day with praise, the first mouthful of food with gratitude, expressing daily how much we love those whom God has committed to our care and expressing thanks to those with whom we work most closely with. As we learn to be faithful in small things, we grow into faithfulness, kindness and generosity of life that mirrors God to the world. Discipline is the process that enables us to be formed by and for God.

The Rev. Dr. Peter B. Stube, Interim Rector