Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Are You Still Waiting?

Christmas has come. The gifts have been opened, the feast consumed, the wrapping paper taken out with the trash or burned in the fireplace. You might still have visitors visiting, or you might be one of those visitors yourself. Or you might already be back at work, with Christmas day a fading memory.

Did Jesus come again? If you’re reading this, probably not—at least not with the world-ending triumphalism that so many Christians expect. He might have been born again, in a modern-day “stable,” in a small town in an occupied country somewhere. If that’s the case, chances are small that we will know anything about him for a while, even with the worldwide reach of modern-day media. If Christ comes again as a little child, he’s not coming to make headlines.

And so we are still waiting, continuing to live in a spiritually “already, but not yet” world. Christ has come, but the world is still slowly being transformed. There is work to do, and the Holy Spirit is still working within each of us to do it. The Spirit is still using our hands and feet, our ears and hearts, to remake the world in God’s image.DSC_1416

How are you called to use your hands and feet, your ears and heart? What is your task for 2014, as you continue to live faithfully in a world that has already experienced God incarnate in Jesus, but still desperately needs both the message and the work of Christ’s love?


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The Wondering Season

It’s a lot of fun to watch young children in this season, to observe the wonder in their faces as they see all the Christmas decorations, watch snow fall, or catch a glimpse of a stunning winter sunset reflected on the clouds. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey don’t have to worry about safely hanging all those Christmas decorations out of the reach of tiny hands, or tackling early morning snow shoveling before driving off to work on slippery roads.

At some point it seems that we let go of our sense of wonder. We learn about the logic, the science, the cause-and-effect nature of things, and we lose our connection with wonder. Yet wonder is one of those things that keeps us young in spirit, and not having all the answers is sometimes a great gift. It allows us to let go of believing that we’re in control of it all.

As the Advent season draws to a close, we are faced with many things about which we might still feel wonder. Rather than analyzing exactly how Jesus might have become incarnate in Mary’s womb, what if we instead focused on the amazing mystery of God connecting with us through a tiny child?

What if, instead of focusing on what we can prove, we let go of our need to know and become as little children again, stopped in our tracks by an encounter with something we do not have to explain or understand?

Take some time to stare up at the stars at night and contemplate the wonder that the shepherds felt outside of Bethlehem. Take a moment to picture in your mind the tiny baby Jesus, held in Mary’s arms. Give yourself some time to give thanks, in whatever way feels right for you, for the incredible gift—and mystery—of love.


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The Waiting Season

Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting for Christmas, for the birth of the Christ child. It’s also the season in which the church focuses on waiting for that second coming of Christ, promised to the early Christians but still, as we see it, waiting to be fulfilled.

Waiting is often a difficult thing for us. Remember how difficult it was to wait until Christmas to open those presents under the tree, or waiting until you were old enough to drive a car, or vote? As a culture, we don’t do waiting very well. We want instant replies, instant results, instant gratification.

And yet many things take time to be ready. “Instant” is not always “best.” In this season I find myself thinking about how difficult it might have been, at least at times, for Mary to wait, month after month, as the baby Jesus grew in her womb. Children born prematurely are not ready to face the world; their lungs aren’t ready to breathe, their bodies to digest, their eyes to see clearly.

Do you ever find yourself hurrying things along? Have you ever tried to help a butterfly out of a cocoon, only to damage its wings in the process so that it’s never able to fly?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What are you waiting for this December? What is in the cocoon stage in your life right now? What needs just a little more time before it’s ready to face this world? What would it take for you to give it, to give yourself, just a little more time?


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The Eating Season

Over the years I’ve come to think of this period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s as the Eating Season. We begin the season with a bang, over-eating on Thanksgiving Day, and then we gather for food-oriented parties pretty constantly until New Year’s Day has come and gone. Cookies and candies, whether homemade or store-bought, are typical gifts in this seasons, as are bottles of alcohol.

I’ve frequently found myself wondering what we’re trying to fill with all this food and drink, and I’m not the only one to wonder this. Back in the 1600s, Blaise Paschal in his Pensées (which means “Thoughts”) spoke of a God-shaped hole within us. A number of others have since contemplated whether our human tendency to consume, indulge and binge has something to do with attempting to fill that inner emptiness with things that ultimately are incapable of doing so.

We can trace this hunger and thirst all the way back to Jesus. DSC_0891 (2) drinkIn John’s gospel, we hear about how Jesus went to one of the Jewish festivals in Jerusalem and proclaimed, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38). Jesus understood that it was our need for the Spirit that was at the root of our thirst, and our hunger. That’s also what he was trying to convey to the woman at the well in John 4:13-14.

And so, as you participate in this eating season, I invite you to be aware of your own inner thirst and hunger. What have you consumed in your own drive to fill this God-shaped hole? What is it that you truly desire? Are you willing to invite God to fill you with that living water?


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Happy Liturgical New Year!

That’s right, today begins a new year—at least in the annual church calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, which is the traditional season of preparation for Jesus’ birth at Christmas. While stores have been hawking Christmas gifts and decorations for weeks already, the church calendar shows us that the celebration of Christmas itself is still more than four weeks away.

So what are these four weeks of Advent about? Traditionally, they are about preparation and expectation. If you had visitors come “over the river and through the woods” for Thanksgiving, you perhaps felt that sense of preparation (housecleaning, meal planning, grocery shopping) and expectation (looking forward to the time that you would spend together and the food and laughter that you might share). If you were the one traveling, you also would have spent time in preparation (packing, travel arrangements) and expectation.DSC_0224 sunrise in mist and grass

The preparation and expectation of Advent are mostly internal. It’s the preparation of your heart and soul to recognize and welcome Jesus—God “incarnate,” or made human—in your life. It’s the expectation that his presence will actually make a difference in your life. It’s an opportunity to take a look at your life and open yourself to the possibility of change.

It’s also a real challenge to focus on preparation and expectation when the culture all around us is celebrating Christmas already. But I invite you to give it a try. In the same way that you might ponder a New Year’s resolution, I invite you today to ponder an Advent resolution. How might you observe this season of waiting for Jesus, of preparation and expectation? Would it be good for you to spend some time housecleaning your heart—or your schedule—to make some room for God? What changes might you wish to make in your life so that you are more open to Jesus when he arrives at Christmas?