Notes from Jan


January 26, 2024

Did you ever try to teach a dog to STAY? A child? Yourself? Then add that our culture doesn’t always reward staying. Sometimes faithfulness, experience, vows get trumped by bottom lines or the notion that new is better. Which is why this week’s chapter in our Christ Church reading group keeps challenging me,

So what are we reading? It’s a book by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. The title hooked me, Where God Happens. Who wouldn’t want to learn about God’s whereabouts! But the book invites us into the world of Christian monasticism and the faith and wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers. So you can tell, as a Baptist preacher’s kid, I was heading into new territory, a desert in more ways than one.

But that’s one of the exciting aspects of being a follower of Jesus and staying teachable. Or so I hope I’m still learning. Take last night’s assignment, for example. The chapter was entitled STAYING. So now you know why the title of this blog and the reference to teaching a dog to STAY. Without getting into too much detail, these men and women lived in cells. The cell was a room, or hut. They were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world to follow God’s call. They lived in the deserts of Syria, Arabia, Palestine and Egypt.

For sure, it sounds strange. But good came from their choices, their writings. Take for example, some of them sounded like me. Some up and moved to other places. You know, like the grass is greener on the other side, or, in this case, the sand less shifting. Saint Benedict wrote that some monks were “constantly on the road looking for a community to suit them: anywhere but here, any colleagues but these.”(p.98)

So, have you ever felt like this? Is this grabbing your attention, like it did mine? It ‘s so hard sometimes, to stay in a place, stay at a task, or to stay with a relationship when it or they are not as we hoped for it or them to be. Then take the temptation to head elsewhere when a church or community is flawed. And too rarely do I see “It’s not my brother or my sister (spouse, child, boss, pastor) but it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.” Or to need to spend some time in my cell to look inward, to listen, to stay.

Well, I’ll leave you with words that continue to challenge me and maybe they’ll nudge you to stay at something or with someone by choosing to stay in your cell. It’s for a sure a place where God happens. One of the desert fathers, Abba Moses, wrote in the 4th century, “Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

Rowan Williams added, “Learning to stay where you are becomes one of the hardest lessons of the desert… Bearing your own company and the company of those immediately and unavoidably around you requires some very special graces.” (p.95)

So, part of my prayer and hope for this year is for staying grace.

And maybe I should pray for those who have to stay with me for the grace they’ll need.

Hmm, it’s beginning to look a lot easier to teach a dog to STAY!

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  • Reply Dale January 27, 2024 at 7:10 am

    Thanks Jan. This fits well with my struggle to heal from my accident. I continually want more when I have all I need. A recent book, With, reminded me that I don’t need more from God or to do more for Him. I just need to be “with” Him as in His presence there is joy, peace, and comfort. Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 27, 2024 at 4:54 pm

      That sounds like a good read, my dead friend. For sure, you’re a miracle after your accident and how well you’re progressing. There’s healing for any of us when we choose to come and stay awhile WITH God .

  • Reply Maggie Wallem Rowe January 27, 2024 at 12:22 pm

    Jan, your post reminded me of one of my favorite hymns from my Wheaton College days, “Like a River Glorious”.
    “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
    Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”

    Staying with Him and with you, with a grateful heart.


    • Reply Jan Carlberg January 27, 2024 at 4:55 pm

      I loved that hymn, too. Never heard it before my time at Wheaton. Thanks, dear Maggie, for sharing this reminder.

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