Rewilding the Word #4
The word “discipline” has always conjured up for me images of what a person of a rebellious will requires: “That boy needs discipline!” And when we hear a person say that another person “lacks discipline”, we hear a distinct harshness in the voice of the one offering this assessment. The use of the word in this way never, in my experience, heralds the arrival of redemption, of a joyful finding of one who was lost, who was found just in time.
It strikes me as significant that “discipline” came to be associated, and especially in Christian religious practice, with the imposition of a corporate, and personal, will on another person, making him or her come to heel, to do what is expected, to quit being difficult, etc. The Oxford English Dictionary at “discipline” makes this point obvious:
We consider how Jesus had disciples. Yet Jesus does not discipline His disciples with punishment and chastisement. This may surprise us since it seems that disciples should be disciplined, habitually, because it is the same word!
So, what happened to the original meaning of the word in its Latin root: the verb disco, which has its root in the Greek verb didáskō (i.e., di-DAHS-koh); both of which give us our English word discipline? Both of those verbs mean: “to learn, to learn how to know (something unknown), to become acquainted with.” Notice the infix “sc” or “sk” inside of those verbs. When that sound – “sk” is added inside the verb form, we are meant to translate the verb’s root meaning (in this case, “to learn”), adding to it the phrase “in the process of”. Thus, the Latin disco means “I am in the process of learning (something)” or “I am getting acquainted with something.”
Essential to the meaning of disciple (see how that “sc” infix sits in this noun?) is a recognition that learning takes time, and that learning something important can take a really long time. Consequently, the idea of “disciple” assumes that there is a teacher of surpassing patience. But a (supposed) teacher who resorts to censure and punishments and practices shaming his or her students ought never be associated with the idea of disciple. Notice the majestic patience of the master Teacher, Jesus Christ, when He says this to His disciples who need lots of reminding:
This delicate, gorgeous poem should first be read as written, from first line to the last line, and then re-read. Feel the power of the poem; notice the insights being shared; appreciate the poet’s ability to express simply things that we could not say as well as he does. In other words, enjoy the poem; appreciate the poet.
Only then, and according to the purpose of the Rewilding the Word essays, consider the words whose meaning I “open up” to deepen your understanding (as it did mine) and to nourish your admiration for the poet’s depth of soul.
Throw away thy wrath:
For my heart’s desire
Unto thine is bent:
Not a word or look
I affect to own,
Though I fail, I weep:
Though I halt in pace,
Then let wrath remove;
Love will do the deed:
Love is swift of foot;
Love’s a man of war,
Who can ’scape his bow?
That which wrought on thee,
Throw away thy rod;
Though man frailties hath,
“throw away” – This verb in the imperative mood (i.e., expressing a command) is written twice in the opening stanza and twice in the last stanza. It is a bold way to address God with a command because God rarely, if ever, commands us. God, as St. Irenaeus of Lyons grasped (as St. Augustine did too), works by persuading us not by making demands on us or by giving commands. It is human beings who have a habit (a bad habit) of commanding others. We can avoid the hard work of earning their trust (being worthy of trust), and of working through friendship (not using people), and of growing in our capacity to persuade a person, or persons, with eloquent speech and convincing reasons.
“wrath” – The conviction that God has a habit of indulging wrathful feelings has caused real harm to religious people, causing Christians with this conviction to struggle their whole lives confused about what “God is love” means, and who are justifiably reticent about ever being honest with God about what they feel. The Oxford English Dictionary at “wrath” defines it as “Vehement or violent anger; intense exasperation or resentment; deep indignation.” What can we make of this? First, we can easily imagine occasions when God ought to have let us have it (!), to blaze with anger, because we recognize occasions when we have acted in a way unworthy of us, of our friends, and of God, and we have hurt others. But the fact is that God does not do as He ought; God chooses another way. Second, we have failed to keep clear in ourselves the distinction between, on the one hand, wrath that is a capital sin (I will call it malign wrath) – one of the most lethal sins in the arsenal of weapons that the evil spirit uses to kill the life in us who indulge such wrath – and, on the other hand, holy wrath, which is about courage at its most fiercely effective against evil. Holy wrath is praiseworthy bravery, which is resolute and implacable against those, especially bullies, who harm others.
An awful lot of people are sounding wrathful in our society right now because they are. Consider cultivating the habit in October of noticing how different malign wrath is from holy wrath. How can you tell when malign wrath is controlling a person (the bodily signs – distorted, ugly faces; violent gestures; the loudness of volume; the kind of language being used; the inflaming of fear and suspicion, etc.), and when holy wrath is being revealed in a person of praiseworthy courage? Malign wrath is not brave; its deepest core is cowardice. By watching for and distinguishing the two wraths, we pray that we ourselves may learn to “throw away” malign wrath when it seeks to make us puppets of its destructive power.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to throw” - III. To cause to move by means of a sudden or forceful action; spec. to propel through the air by a movement of the hand or arm, and connected uses; to cast, fling, hurl; extended and figurative senses.
 The cardinal virtue of temperance is what has been compromised in us, which is the overpowering of our intellect, of our capacity to seek the truth and carefully to weigh the evidence for it, by affects that have overmastered us, which then drive us, control us, rob us of peace. Our affects become like wild horses no longer able to be controlled by the reins.
Very interesting. I liked the connection between disciples and discipline. Poem is good at showing Man’s view versus God’s view. Need to think more about emotions versus affects.Is there another word for affects which is not commonly used?
Yes, and thank the Lord that he has holy wrath rather than malign wrath...not to mention patience!
Thank you Rick I liked the poem and your thoughts and comments. The older I become the more I realize how God loves us and how we need to share
His love in the world.