Notes from Jan

Thoughts on Railings

July 3, 2023

The older I get, the more I appreciate railings. And not just the wooden or metal kind. I’m referring to rituals that help steady me in shaky times. So, why this topic? Well, it came from a line in a novel our book group is reading, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. “Ritual is the railing we hold to, all of us together, that keeps us upright and connected until the worst is past.”

Take church, for instance. Going to church is one of my railings. I need the ritual of showing up on Sunday to help me stay “upright and connected.” But there are other rituals, like reciting The Lord’s Prayer. Take this phrase, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s powerful praying. And although, I quoted this before, some things bear repeating. Which is a phrase I use when my kids tell me I’m repeating myself. However, Annie Dillard wrote this relating to worship and rituals, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

“Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke?” She suggests we should forget our straw hats and put on crash helmets. And ” ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” Why? It’s risky to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done here and now.

Well, that’s a powerful image of what’s possible on any given Sunday we plant ourselves in a pew and pray. It’s risky. But it’s why I show up and listen and look about for God to show up. Sometimes through a small child, holding out cupped hands and asking for “more, please” during the Eucharist. They come like holy hints as to who God is and what truly matters.

So why get up and go to church? I need the railings, the predictability. And another chance to experience community with folks who remind me of God’s creativity and questionable choices when it comes to family. Ordinary Grace made visible.

And so, come next Sunday, church will be on my schedule. And like Annie Dillard writes, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

As for me, I’ll take both “a net to catch days” and “ritual as railings.”

Both offer opportunities to cup our hands to receive, “more please.

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  • Reply Mark Taylor July 3, 2023 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks, Jan. This is a good reminder for all of us–that church is a railing that provides structure to our lives.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 3, 2023 at 8:51 pm

      What a good gift to see your name show up, dear Mark. I pray you’re doing well. We all need railings, especially in times when so much seems in flux. May God strengthen and encourage you as you, through your life and the work of Tyndale, have done for so many. You can count me among the many.

  • Reply Radina Welton July 4, 2023 at 11:23 am

    Oh wow! This is so right on! Beautifully said, dear Jan! It confirms what I feel in my bones in a time when so many loved ones are leaving church attendance. Last Sunday our sermon was on “the sower and the seed” in Luke. We’ve got to keep watering and nourishing the soil of our hearts so the seed can take hold!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 4, 2023 at 5:29 pm

      Sing on, dear Radina. So happy you found a place to belong since you moved to Oregon. Church connects us to more than each other, as you know. May you be blessed and bless many in your new home. And please hug those Petrocellis, for me.

  • Reply Wendy July 5, 2023 at 10:38 am

    The older I get the more I appreciate rituals as railings I hold onto tightly too! I’m just getting back from a couple weeks away, and while it was wonderful, I was missing some of my rituals and actually found my heart and soul a little unsteady sometimes. I couldn’t have said it as well as you did – but it resonated deeply with me. Especially church! I need to send you a picture or 2 from my time away. :). Love you!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg July 5, 2023 at 11:32 am

      That’s one of the challenges of aging, holding to rituals to steady and strengthen but knowing when to let loose and flex, like when we travel. I’ll look forward to seeing pictures, dear Wendy. Sometimes interruptions in our schedules provide opportunities to see God, ourselves and others in fresh ways. Thanks for stopping by. Happy summering!

  • Reply Maggie Wallem Rowe November 13, 2023 at 8:26 pm

    Jan, I have kept this post from July 3 about “rituals and railings” in my inbox ever since I read it. I also ordered “Ordinary Grace” after you mentioned it, and MIke and I both loved the book. So consider this a very belated (by four months) thank you!

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