Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Loving All of You


Last week I reflected about our friend and his fourth-grade class, whose performance of The Secret Garden we had recently attended. A few days after writing the post, I found I was still pondering those students, modern classrooms, and the state of learning in this country. I found that I’m not alone in that regard; Tom’s class and their play even made the front page of this week’s Marana News!

While every student participated in the event in some fashion, not all of the students were in the play. The performance began with two songs, and one of those songs stuck with me. Tom had told us the story of the young singer, who had very little self-confidence, but a beautiful voice. Tom gently and slowly encouraged this child to take the risk of performing. The child agreed, but wore a stylish hat and basically hid behind its brim and the microphone. But the clear, pure voice could not be hidden, and it was a lovely performance.

The lyrics to the song also struck me. I’m not sure why the song was chosen, but it spoke to me, in tandem with the book I’m currently editing. The song is “All of Me” by John Legend and the lines that I found myself repeating included:

…all of me loves all of youDSC_1253 prickly pear heart

Loves your curves and all your edges

All your perfect imperfections

Give your all to me

I’ll give my all to you

You’re my end and my beginning

Even when I lose I’m winning

The reason these lines spoke to me is related to that all-embracing, wondrous love. We are used to hearing it in love songs like this, where one person professes that type of all-encompassing love for one other person—but I’ve been reading about the spiritual call, and challenge, to fully love every person in the world and every speck of creation. I found myself thinking of “all of you” as our Mother Earth, with her many curves and edges, and her “perfect imperfections”…and how we must each learn to love our God-given life here on this planet, along with everything and everyone who abides here.

This also means that we need to give all of ourselves in loving, just as Tom gives his all to those students in his class. No matter how much they act out, struggle, fail, and fall, Tom provides loving discipline, teaches them the consequences of their actions, and helps them to pick themselves up and try again. In this “imperfect” classroom, children are learning so many critical life skills in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Tom left teaching for a while, and had success in another field, but found that he missed making a difference in children’s lives. For him, living the faith-filled life involves loving his little portion of that “all of you” planet upon which we reside.

Another important line in the song for me is “even when I lose I’m winning.” So often in our culture today, we are taught that there are no win/win situations. It’s all about us vs. them, up vs. down, success vs. failure. But that is not what we were taught by God. We were instructed, in the very beginning, to care for the Earth and maintain it (Genesis 2:15). To do this, we must work together, for the greater good of all. This means that we must often choose to lose so that all may win. Here in America, many of us must choose to make do with less so that there is enough for everyone. We must recognize, as Tom did, that making money is not the endgame. His loss is his students’ gain—and when they gain and grow, he wins, too.

I believe that God is speaking, to me and to all of us, through this song. Where in your life is God singing “give your all to me; I’ll give my all to you”?


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Support for Blossoming


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Spring is well underway here in Tucson. The saguaros are blooming, along with so many other plants. I don’t yet know the names for some of them—but that doesn’t keep them from blossoming nonetheless!

Children are blossoming also. A friend of ours is a fourth grade teacher who uses every tool at his disposal to encourage and challenge children to stretch themselves, to take risks and grow. Last Wednesday we went to see his class perform The Secret Garden. He felt it was a particularly appropriate play for the children, so many of whom are having to learn how to move beyond the painful lessons that life has already handed them. I was honored to watch these children perform, in large parts and small, with eagerness and trepidation, perfectly and imperfectly.

We are all like that, you see. We all have painful lessons that life throws at us. We all perform both perfectly and imperfectly within the large and small roles of our lives. The question is whether we will take the risk of blossoming. So many times I have been afraid of risking failure, rejection, imperfection, and have not taken the risks. That is part of why it’s so important now to keep taking those risks, keep putting my work out there. To trust that God, and others, are supporting my blooming efforts because they need the fruits which will follow.

The other reason I believe it’s so important for me to keep putting my work out there, taking risks, is that we were all made to blossom. We all have beautiful gifts to share, and we are genetically programmed by our Creator to blossom in our own unique ways. If we hide our light under a bowl, as Jesus admonished in Matthew 5:14—16, our light does others, and the world, no good. This is why our friend is compelled to teach, and I am compelled to write, and share the flowers and fruit of my pondering, here on this blog, on retreats, in Embodied Prayer, and other places as well.

So how are you being called to blossom? What role models do you have for blossoming in your own life? What steps might you need to take that look like removing the bowl and letting your light shine? What support do you need in order to blossom?


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Three Steps Toward, Two Steps Away


After such a banner week last week, I don’t have any headlines to report this week. No major steps taken, nothing else proposed—although I did work on a submission of some of my work to a theological journal. But as I pondered what did happen this week, I found myself thinking that it’s not “three steps forward, two steps back” but rather that I’ve consolidated my steps from last week and kept speaking my truth.

Much of the reason that I didn’t write any poetry this week, or work much on my SMART goals or other SCORE work, was because Henry and I traveled to and from Albuquerque this week—a round-trip of almost a thousand miles. We made the journey because my parents are down-sizing to an apartment and were giving us their dining room table and chairs, along with a number of other household items ranging from furniture and garden tools to kitchen gadgets, books, and Native American pottery.

Trips, vacations, and other breaks from routine are usually gifts for us, but they can also throw us off our routines—which can be deadly to the establishment of newly created practices. I know that this has been the case for me in the past. Like I indicated last week, all I can really do is commit myself to moving onward “one day at a time” and recognize that there will be days when that just doesn’t happen. The good news is that I’m now back home, I’ve got plenty of work to do, and I am still managing to put my own creative work first.

Another gift of this past week was a meeting with my spiritual director, who helped me to remember that this desire, this drive to make changes in my life, is rooted in my relationship with God. God called me to this ministry, and all I need to do is keep taking one more step, and then one more step, and then one more…. Some days those steps will feel like I’m not “making progress,” but my sense of the bigger picture is still terribly small.

IMG_1480In fact, I can trust that this journey is much like walking a labyrinth. The path will unfold before me and sometimes it may seem that I’m walking away from my goal, rather than toward it. But the fact remains that there is only one path in the labyrinth, and it leads to the center. Once I start on the path, I just need to keep walking, day by day, to the best of my ability.

Where in your life does it feel like you might be moving away from your goal, or even taking two steps back? Can you trust God, one day at a time, believing that you are indeed on a journey toward the center of your own particular labyrinthine journey?


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A Banner Week


This past week has been a red-letter week for me. I have taken some big steps on a couple of important roads in my life, and one of them has already proven fruitful!

The first thing I did is to finally(!) submit my manuscript for Dying With Ada to a publisher. This is the book I excerpted here a while ago, about the year that Henry’s aunt Ada lived and died with us. I’ve put it off for a pile of reasons, most of which were really procrastination, fear of failure, and being overwhelmed with the variety of publishing paths available these days.

The second thing I did was to complete and submit to my SCORE mentor three SMART goals for my professional spiritual work over the next 6-9 months. These goals (and stating them publicly here is part of making them real, and being accountable for their fulfillment!) are launching my shirinmcarthur.com website, leading an online spiritual retreat over Advent/Christmas, and publishing my first ebook.

The third thing was actually “forced” upon me, and involved taking a more direct role (and bigger risk) in one of my editing jobs. This is the one for which I’ve already received positive feedback—and it feels great!

But none of this was easy. Dying With Ada was written in 2011–2012, which means I’ve been avoiding “putting it out into the world” for four long years! I’ve owned the shirinmcarthur.com domain for more than a year now, and have done very little further with it. My fears about taking on this additional risk with this client literally had me on my back (not just my knees!) in prayer last week, struggling through it all with God….

So…how did this happen? What has enabled me to take these important steps? Part of it was the workshop at Ghost Ranch. I have walked out of so many workshops over the years, determined to follow through—and haven’t. And so I prayed that I would follow through this time. I made a commitment (again!) to putting my own writing life first each weekday—rather than diving into freelance work right away—and I clearly stated that commitment to a couple of my fellow workshop participants. I wrote out my morning routine, step by step, and kept it up on my computer each day so I could check my progress, celebrate my successes, have self-compassion for where I didn’t follow through, and commit “one day at a time” to try again. I’ve written poetry, and sent a couple of them to those workshop participants. I will share more, here and elsewhere. I’m pondering starting a second, poetry blog…but I might choose instead to keep the focus on those SMART goals, and maybe the ebook will be a poetry book!

The other thing that happened last week was that, in my editing work and elsewhere, I was confronted (again!) with the lesson that we learn much more from our failures than our successes. In prayer and reflection, IMG_1556cI realized that there is no ideal path, no 100% success rate. I cannot choose the “perfect” path to publishing because there are so many…and in fact, I ended up writing a poem about that! Instead, I need to choose a road, walk a ways, learn its lessons, then decide if another road might be better for next time.

And so I chose some roads, took some steps, and am—at last!—moving forward. Thanks be to God!

Where in your own life are you stuck—for whatever reasons? It might be that, if you take those things to prayer, you will find that the reasons don’t matter. There is no perfect path; what would happen if you chose one and took a few steps, just to see what you could learn?


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Making Music Together


Another famous musician died this past week. As I dipped into the news feed following Prince’s death, I found myself feeling something similar to what I felt following the death of David Bowie. There’s so much talk about what makes these musicians unique and memorable. I’ve enjoyed their music over the years. I’m also not a musical expert; I found myself contemplating Prince and Bowie as cultural phenomena—and pondering what their stardom might have to say about our cultural priorities and spiritual lives.

David Bowie was lauded as both a chameleon and the truest rock star—in the same sentence, mind you! To me, that seems oxymoronic—or is it paradoxical? How can he be constantly changing and, at the same time, true to himself and his musical gifts? Perhaps he had a genius for chameleon-hood, but what does that say about what we Americans want in our music, our entertainment, our artistic icons?

Then there’s Prince, who “defied genre” and also changed his name—that handle by which he was most-widely known—because of a fight with a record company. Perhaps it’s emblematic of the state of our society, that big business has such a hold over us that we might actually have to change our names to get out from under its thumb.

IMG_2692cAs I pondered musical identities, I found myself out in our back yard, listening to the wind chimes in our trees. Those chimes present a very different image of musicality. Each individual chime is of a different length, yet they appear the same when grouped together. They work together, in unity, to create a harmonious sound. They are not driven by ego, business, or cultural priorities. They are moved by the wind—by the Spirit. As John 3:8 says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Contrary to modern Western culture, we are not created to be “unique and memorable”; we are, in fact, created to be different strands in one interlocking web of creation on planet Earth. Instead of working so hard to stand out, we really need to learn how to stand alongside each other and work together.

And so I ask you: What should truly matter about our cultural icons? Is it their genius for entertainment, or for connection? Is it their success in creatively fighting big business, or their ability to transform our society so that big business might not have such a stranglehold on creativity?

What would happen if we were to laud those who seek to work together, creating harmonious music that includes everyone? Is it even possible—or is it paradoxical?!—to single out those who show us our common humanity?


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Pedernal Pearls


This past week was an incredible gift for me. I attended a writer’s workshop/retreat at Ghost Ranch. A dozen of us spent our mornings and evenings together, discussing elements of the writing craft, experimenting with new ways to stimulate our writing, and sharing the results of our work with each other. I came away feeling inspired and energized about my poetry and committed (again!) to making my personal writing (as opposed to my professional writing for others) an integral part of my life.

I also took a lot of photographs and even played with water colors, something I haven’t done in decades. Today I thought I’d share a poem and a painting, on the same subject. I also invite you to ponder where in your life you might need to nurture your creative or spiritual life with new input, practice or support.

 

Pedernal PearlsPedernal

 

Pedernal looms in the distance,

wearing a scant choker of snow.

Clouds dance with her high collar,

throwing a virga shawl around her shoulders.

Wind whips her darkened skirts

As water evaporates beneath her feet.

 

Where did our hearts wander

While our heads were elsewhere?


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Releasing What Is Extraneous


One of the things I did on vacation recently was re-read a favorite short story—twice. I finished reading it once, and immediately felt the need to read it again. On the second time through, part of what kept catching my attention was the fact that nothing was extraneous to the developing story line. One of the things that makes short stories harder to write than longer ones—and poetry more difficult to write than stories—is the need to take out everything that isn’t critical to moving forward the plot or idea of the piece.

Part of what I found myself doing in quieter moments on vacation was similar, in a sense. I was sifting through the crowd of ideas and thoughts and experiences and worries and such that have been running through my mind over the past several months of transition. I was working, consciously, to let go of what was extraneous, so that I could focus on my relationship with God and reconnect with the spiritual center of my life.

DSC_0364cOne of the exercises I did for myself was to make a list of all the ways I saw myself, all the roles I’ve been playing. Then I spent time in prayer, reflecting on each of them, and what held the most—or least—meaning, or need, or hope, or energy, at this point in my life. As the wind whipped through the palm trees, I listened to the rustling sound, wrote a poem about the rustling, returned to an internal stillness. Made lunch. Repeated the process. Re-read the short story. Reflected some more. Released into God’s hands yet more of the issues and items that felt extraneous to my life in this season.

Eventually the word that became central was “let.” Let go. Let be. That sense of allowing things to unfold felt incredibly important—the way that a blog post or poem will unfold when I let go of my need to control it and see what the Spirit, speaking through me, might have to say.

When did you last take time to reflect on what’s essential in your life? When have you “let go” and waited, trusting, for what might unfold? Is this Easter season perhaps a good time to reflect on the roles you live, the ways you spend your time, and release what is extraneous at this stage in your journey?

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