Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Practicing What I Preach

I’m exhausted. We have just completed a wonderful, but very full, week with family visiting. Last night we realized that, over the past two weeks, both Henry and I have each driven close to 1500 miles. My body is clearly telling me that I need to slow down to take some time to rest.

I often find myself encouraging people who come to see me for spiritual direction to find a balance between activity and rest, between doing and being. But I do not always practice what I preach. Last night I was tired enough when we returned home that it did not even occur to me that I had not written my blog for today. When I awoke this morning I realized that I had missed my self-imposed deadline to publish early on Sunday morning.

And that’s okay. Rules are made for bending…and part of wisdom comes in recognizing when it’s time to bend them. It will not harm anyone to wait a few hours to read what I might have to say this week. The best thing I can do for myself today is listen to what I really need—and I have. I intend to do so for the rest of the day, because tomorrow, after a week away from my home office, I need to get back to work.

Where in your own life do you need to practice what you preach? Or practice the balance that I’m preaching? Where might you need to bend some self-imposed rules?

DSC_1677 javelinaIf you need a reason to slow down, feel free to emulate me and this little javelina that I caught yawning at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum this week.


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The Purpose of Things

During the months that we have lived here in Silver City, we have often seen birds, especially curve-billed thrashers, perch on the tires of our vehicles. My assumption is that they feel safe, with the solid body of the car or truck above them, but they are still able to get a good view of the world. DSC_1431Recently I saw two of them, basking in the early sunlight, feathers fluffed up against the morning chill. They have taken what we consider a mode of transportation and made it into a shelter. It works for them, in a way that the small space between tire and truck would never work for us.

I wonder how many things I have repurposed in my life. Probably too many to count. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how children do this naturally. They do not have presuppositions about what things are supposed to be “for.” Neither do the birds. They make the best use of whatever they come across.

Take some time today to wander around your house, or out in nature or the city somewhere, and let your imagination run wild. Look at something and intentionally forget its “purpose.” Artists do this often, recycling everything from motorcycle chains to computer motherboards into fierce dragons and elegant jewelry.

Then ask yourself about your own purpose. What were you created to do? Are you fulfilling that purpose, or have you repurposed yourself? Which feels more like the right purpose? How might you need to shift your thinking in order to live out that purpose?



I’m trying out some new gluten-free recipes for a group I share dinner with each month. Two of the members are gluten-intolerant, and two are also avoiding dairy. During the summer, it’s easy; I make flavorful homemade sorbets and sherbets (using almond, coconut or rice milk). Even though the weather is quite balmy in New Mexico these days (58 degrees as I type; I’ve been outside in the yard, and will head back out there again soon!), it’s a bit too chilly in the evening for ice cream.

Checking recipes and ingredients (and the internet to make sure that corn starch is gluten free), I found myself thinking about the word “intolerant.”

These days I hear the word being used regularly in regard to a body’s intolerance of substances that we eat, smell or use to clean. Someone told me that the rise in gluten intolerance can be traced to the increase in gluten levels in genetically-modified wheat; it’s more than our bodies are genetically prepared to handle. Others say that people are developing sensitivities to—intolerance of—the very air they breathe because of the number of pollutants present within it.

When I was growing up, the word “intolerant” generally referred to someone who was intolerant of people of other races. Someone had made a determination about a person’s worth based on something, such as race, that the person could not change. But it referred to a state of mind, and the subtext often included the assumption that someone could change her or his mind and become “tolerant.”

Jesus was intolerant of very little…but he did have his boundaries. He said that it was what came out of people’s mouths, rather than what went into them, that determined their character. He was intolerant of hypocrisy, especially in the religious leaders around him. You could say he was intolerant of intolerance (how’s that for a paradox!?); after all, he treated Samaritans the same way he did his fellow Jews.

Of what are you intolerant? How do you justify it?

How might you practice the paradoxical discipline of being intolerant of intolerance?


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Unboxing Imagination

I recently had a dream in which I took an item from an art show, draped it over my shoulders, and proceeded to dance with joy. Somewhere in that sleeping/waking stage, it occurred to me that I had become part of the art exhibit—although perhaps not in the way that the artist had intended. As I became more fully awake, I found myself wondering if God ever watches us and thinks, “I never would have come up with that particular use for this piece of my creation!”

Have you ever observed a young child take a household item and transform it into something new? Pots and pans become drums or helmets. A towel becomes the caped crusader’s cape. As children, our use of an item is only limited by our imagination. As we grow older, we become accustomed to asking what something is used for, and naturally limiting our use of it to what others tell us.

And yet…sometimes adults come up with new ways to use things. We call them researchers and inventors, or sometimes artists, or at other times, even crazy.

IMG_0140Sometimes I enjoy taking photographs that reveal patterns and shapes, but don’t necessarily reveal what the item is. This allows the imagination to take flight, to move outside the boxes that we adults tend to construct around our imaginations.IMG_0243

I invite you to move outside your boxes once in a while. Look at something with new eyes. Ask yourself how else it might be used, or just plain enjoyed. Don’t worry about what others are thinking. Literally or metaphorically, drape it around your shoulders and dance with joy.