Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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What is a Weed?

Our much-coveted rain brings with it lots of new growth—especially in the desert. The dry, barren dirt field that was our back yard is now knee-high with grasses and weeds of various sorts. It’s a startling transformation, perhaps because it is so unexpected.

I had a conversation with a gardening friend a few years ago, in which I proposed that a weed was simply a plant growing in the wrong place. Today I’m thinking that this is true, but also not. Ragweed will always be a weed, no matter where it is planted. I’ve spent the past few weeks pulling up the ragweed that’s closest to the house, because we are suffering from its effects.DSC_0892

However, in my opinion, not everything that spontaneously sprouts is a weed. A friend here in Silver City told me recently that she’s pulling 5 types of weeds from her yard, but letting all the grasses grow. She will then “weed whack” them back after they have gone to seed, so that next time we have a good summer monsoon season, she will have an even nicer yard full of waving grasses—and a lot fewer weeds.

DSC_0863 eI’ve had to really think small with regard to our 6.5 acres. Most of the yard will remain in its “natural” state—which does include a nice array of wild grasses and wildflowers. Besides pulling ragweed, my goal this year has been to remove all non-cactus plants from the area we’ve designated as our cactus garden, and pulling all but the wildflowers from my major iris bed and the former grass plot in our front yard that we rototilled a month ago. Those 4 chores are plenty for this year.

As to “weeds” growing in the “wrong” place, one of the challenges I’ve taken upon myself has been to transplant a number of wildflowers from the cactus garden to the former lawn in the front yard. Naturally, the smaller the plant, the more likely it is to survive transplantation. Some have survived, and are even blooming now. I’m also leaving a few of the larger plants for now, wanting to harvest their seeds for sowing in other places for next year.DSC_0866

All this has me thinking about pulling the “weeds” in other areas of my life. What in my life is a true weed (perhaps my addiction to sugar?) that should be pulled out of my life wherever it occurs? And what—if I can step back and take a wider view—are wildflowers that perhaps need transplanting to other areas of my life, rather than being rooted out entirely? Certainly the time I spend reading on the computer should not occur during those hours I intend to spend “earning my keep” with my wordsmithing—but sometimes that becomes a gray area when I’m doing research for a writing project. Prayer is never a weed—but in the rhythm of my day, determining its best location is sometimes a challenge. Even paid work can be a weed if I’m doing it when I know I need to be still and pray.

What are your weeds?

What needs uprooting? What needs transplanting?


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Survival Miracle

Henry and I are traveling this week. A few hours ago we were driving in Queens, New York and rounded a corner to find traffic stopped on the Jackie Robinson Parkway ahead of us. As Henry brought our rental car to a stop, we saw people leaving their cars and running ahead down the roadway, to where our lanes passed under the surface-level street overhead. A closer look revealed that the chain link fence and older metal railing had both been torn away from a section overhead, and–unbelievably–there was a dark SUV upside down on the concrete jersey-barrier-type median between the inbound and outbound sides of the roadway.

Henry’s response was to say, “I wonder if they need a priest.” He grabbed his anointing “oil stock” out of the trunk of our car and ran ahead while I moved into the driver’s seat of the car, ready to pull over to the tiny shoulder area if traffic started before he returned. I found myself automatically praying for the people involved in the accident. Drivers from nearby cars were milling around, talking with each other. The relatively short distance between our car and the accident told us that it had happened mere moments before we turned that bend in the roadway.

A few cars began to pass by from the other side, and (quite quickly) siren sounds began to approach from both directions. As people began returning to their cars and driving onward, Henry returned with the good–and again, unbelievable–news that the accident victims had somehow walked away from the overturned SUV. He climbed into the car and we slowly continued on our way, past the vehicle and the group of victims and good Samaritans huddled by the side of the road under the underpass. As we drove on, we marveled at the miracle of survival that we had just witnessed.

05__Caraccidentjackierobinson_RH.JPGNeither of us thought to grab our cameras and record the image of the vehicle, upside down across the median. That wasn’t our primary consideration, despite the fact that we are both photographers. Our thoughts had been for the victims, and for our roles as priest and intercessor. And so, as I thought about writing on this accident, and the miracle of survival, I did not have any photos to accompany this story.

A part of me thinks that this is just fine–but another part of me wants to emphasize the amazing good news that this story is. So we found a news article on the internet and I copied one of the photos from that news article (thank you, Riyad Hasan) to include here. Unfortunately, Riyad was taking photos from above, after the SUV had come off the median, so it isn’t as dramatic as what we saw–but the damage is clearly there.

My questions for pondering are twofold.

First, what do you believe would be your initial response to witnessing disaster? Have you ever had the chance to “test that theory” in an actual disaster situation?

Second, have you ever witnessed a survival miracle? What was your response? What goes through your mind when you hear about such stories?

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The Sound of Rain

It’s raining as I write this—a thorough, soaking rain. The desert earth is having a difficult time absorbing it all, but we need every drop to help offset the drought.

If it seems like water is a constant theme for those of us who live in the desert…it is. I’m always aware of when rain is falling, or the skies look like they might let loose with thunderstorms at any minute. It probably comes from living where water is a scarce commodity. It’s an awareness that I grew up with, and I’ve taken it with me, wherever I have lived.

I can still easily recall standing in the woods while on retreat in late autumn, along the Merrimack River in northern Massachusetts. I was standing outside, under an umbrella, listening to the rain fall on a thick carpet of brightly-colored leaves. The sound of the rain, on the leaves and on my umbrella, has stayed with me, even 20 years later.

IMG_0219I also realize that many of my photographs have to do with rain. Raindrops on cactus spines and grass blades. Rain misting over mountains. Channels that rain has carved through the earth, or wave patterns that it has left behind. The absence of rain also figures in my photographs. Cracked, dry earth, thirsting for rain. Fantastic shapes woven of juniper tree skeletons. Fields of brown grass gone to seed.DSC_0313 e

We all have images that figure in our lives in important ways. Rain in the desert is an image that speaks to me. It speaks to me of the spiritual life as well as of nature. Sometimes I am the parched earth, waiting for rain from God. Sometimes I am one of those raindrops, joyfully bouncing along the sidewalk and then sinking into the earth alongside other drops. Mostly I am myself, listening to the rain fall, wondering what parts of my body and my soul need to soak up this precious moisture.

What is an enduring image in your life? Where do you find yourself in the image? What spiritual meaning does it have in your life?




DSC_2149 flower carpetLast summer we were driving on the interstate south of Flagstaff, Arizona, and came across this carpet of wildflowers.  In the desert, wildflowers bloom only when there is sufficient, regular rainfall, so this was a rare, and spectacular, occurrence.

The summer rain we’ve had in Silver City this year is the most this area has had in at least 3 years. Many seeds (including, unfortunately, ragweed!) have waited for years, biding their time, for this blooming season. There are lots of wildflowers blooming here now, with different ones appearing each week. As I admire the varied colors and shapes, and sneeze, I find myself wondering…what within me is wanting, or waiting, to bloom? What within me needs water in order to bloom–and what type of “water” does it need?

Saturday afternoon I gave a presentation on Hildegard of Bingen to a group of women. Hildegard was a medieval prophetess, mystic, composer, healer, environmentalist…the list of her many accomplishments goes on, and on. I wonder where she found the “water” she needed to bloom, in a time and place that didn’t provide much “water” to women. She blossomed anyway, and we are still gathering her seeds today. And so I pray to be inspired–even watered–by her example.

What within you is waiting to bloom?

What is your “water”?


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Entice Me to My Knees

I have been working as a freelancer now for about 15 months. What began slowly, and with some trepidation on my part, has within the past month reached a volume, and level of compensation, that is actually sufficient for my needs. I am grateful, but the work has also had me up late at night and early in the morning to meet deadlines, and mentally exhausted at the end of many days. (Darn it, I’m not a twenty-something anymore!)

I’m not complaining—but I woke to a dream the other morning which reminded me that, once again, my rhythm of prayer has become a casualty of the busyness in my life. In part, this is because it’s also the rainy season here in the desert, and there are lots of thriving weeds that need pulling in the cooler mornings, in order to help stave off the allergies that we are suffering.

In response to the dream, I lay in bed and found myself praying, “Okay, God, drag me to my knees”—and then my left foot spasmed and I thought, “No! No more dragging, please, God. Entice me to my knees!”

You see, I broke my left foot in May, and spent the summer hobbling around the house in a black Velcro boot instead of striding the mountainsides in hiking boots as I had planned. Because the break occurred while I was dancing my morning prayers, I believe that it was my body and spirit—and perhaps God’s Spirit—trying to slow me down, to get my attention. I spent the summer doing my best to slow down, pay attention, make time for prayer, take a week’s retreat…. But as my foot has healed, I’m speeding up again, almost without realizing it—especially in the face of a welcome increase in my paying workload.

DSC_0148 meadowSo this dream was really a wakeup call. I do not want to fall to my knees with another broken bone; I want to fall to my knees in gratitude for continued rain in the midst of drought. I do not want to put work first; I want to put God first, in order to have the strength of both body and mind to do the work well.

And so I re-commit to showing up for prayer each morning. To do God’s work first, then work for my “other” customers. I know that I receive from God so much more in “compensation” than any of my paying clients could possibly give.

So now, I look forward to watching for how God might entice me….

Has God ever had to drag you to your knees to get your attention?

Do you need to make a re-commitment to a rhythm of prayer?

How has God enticed you?