Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Addictions and Aha Moments

candyI have for many years recognized that I am addicted to sugar. It’s a more socially acceptable addiction than many others—but it can be just as destructive to my personal health and well-being. While I have been able to keep my weight under control, far too many times I have used sweet foods and snacks to fill that “God-shaped hole” within myself that I’ve mentioned before. Sometime within the past year I started referring to myself as a sugarholic—and at this point I know it’s true, even if our society would not recognize it as such, and might belittle it as “not really an addiction.”

However, if we dig deeply enough, and are honest enough with ourselves, we all are addicted to something. Richard Rohr, in Breathing Under Water, states that societies even unconsciously agree upon “acceptable” addictions; he says America’s are oil, war and empire. I believe sugar is one of those, perhaps because it gives us a short-term energy burst, which so many Americans feel we need in order to get through the overly-busy days that our culture demands of us.

Other socially acceptable addictions that I see, on a smaller scale than war and empire, include the addiction to junk food—to the ease with which we can obtain and consume it, without respect for its effect on our bodies or the cost to our society when a lifetime of consumption lands us in the hospital—and to power and control, which are actually encouraged in our society’s leaders. There are also addictions to possessions, which lead to hoarding issues that are only recently being recognized as a problem.

All of these addictions have some things in common. They are something we consume, or think we control, in our attempt to feel whole and complete. In reality, however, we need to admit our powerlessness (as the first of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says) in the face of our innate human tendency to grasp hold of these attachments, and “turn it over” to God.

I had an “aha” moment this past week. Yes, I’ve been trying to deny or avoid my addiction, and my powerlessness. I’ve also not been recognizing my innate, God-created wholeness. As I was praying/talking/struggling before God with all this, I suddenly realized that the answer has been hidden in my name all of my life. You see, Shirin means “sweet”!

And so I found myself saying, over and over, “I’m Shirin, and I’m sweet enough without sugar.” It’s a long way from where I am now to any kind of complete healing and wholeness, but it’s a start. To quote AA yet again, “one day at a time.”

Lent begins in 11 days. I invite you to consider praying for awareness of an addiction that you might wish—or, more likely, need—to address during this upcoming season of discipline and denial. What might it be like to give up junk food, or purchasing anything that you didn’t have an immediate, concrete use for? Could you walk through an entire day at work without attempting to control what happens around you, and the people with whom you work? How else might you need to confront an addiction in your life, and your need for God, during this Lenten season?


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Reflecting God’s Glory

Shine your light on me.
Illuminate me. Make me complete.

—  “Nova,” VNV Nation

I was driving through central New Mexico as the sun was setting a couple of days ago. The reflection of the sun on the mountains beside me was simply beautiful—the golden light, the pattern of light and shadow in the folds of the hills. Then, as the sun sank further, its rays were reflected on the clouds above, spilling a surreal pink light over the landscape all around me. A part of me yearned to stop and take a picture—but I chose instead to keep driving and simply bask in the beauty of the moment.

This experience reminded me of a story I’d read in an article I was editing, earlier this week, retelling one of Rumi’s wisdom stories. In this story, two groups of artists compete to prove their mastery. One group painted a room with beautiful images using amazing paints; the other group cleaned the walls of the adjacent room until they shone like a mirror. When the door between the rooms was removed, the paintings of the first group were reflected in the mirrored walls of the second, underscoring that it is the cleansing of the heart (or mind, or soul) that allows us to properly reflect God’s glory.

DSC_1170This image, taken a few months ago, is of Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch, also reflecting the light of the setting sun. It seems to me that every bit of God’s creation, ourselves included, has the potential to shine like this, to be illuminated, completed, as we reflect the light of God’s love.

What polishing might you need to do in order to more perfectly reflect God’s light?

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DSC_1806While the northeastern US has been inundated with snow and ice this winter, New Mexico has been unusually dry. We’re already having grass fires in our area, even though the fire season shouldn’t begin until spring. As I’m writing this, clouds are moving by overhead, blown by the wind, but chances are miniscule that they will drop any measurable moisture.

It’s a little frightening to think about the fire season starting in February and running through June. When I was young, fire season lasted around two months out of the year; five months of dry, windy conditions is both sobering and saddening. Most of our 6.5 acres are covered with very dry grasses, waving in the wind, which are unfortunately also prime candidates for catching and spreading the merest spark of fire, whether from wood stoves, burning trash or even passing vehicles.

As I watch the weather patterns across the US I have a great sense of the climate in this country being terribly out of balance. How else can we have far too much moisture in the northeast and far too little in the southwest?

What has caused this shift? What factors have created this imbalance? Questions like this eventually bring me back to my own actions, and the balance—or lack thereof—in my own life. The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy for me, work-wise, and while I am grateful for the income, I recognize that I cannot sustain this level of work without a period of rest and recovery—a chance to refill my drying body and spirit from the deep well of Spirit.

That Holy Spirit has a sense of humor in this regard, because I’m also preparing to give a couple of retreat-style talks for clergy in early March on Sabbath and the need to find ways to balance our lives, even in the face of unpredictability. Whether it’s a death in the priest’s parish or three clients wanting work completed in the same timeframe, those clergy and I face the same unknowns when it comes to our schedules. This could lead us into the quicksand of overwork, or it could be an invitation to find those moments of stillness—whether a few minutes or a few hours—which renew us enough to embrace whatever is coming next.

Is your life out of balance? What factors are creating imbalance in the weather patterns of your days? Is your soul so dry that you are in danger of spreading wildfire? What can you do, in a few minutes or a few hours, to begin rebalancing your life?


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Most mornings I begin my day with what I call “stretches.” As a child, I watched my father do morning exercises, and the importance of keeping my body limber and strong has stayed with me through the years. The discipline required to actually do them has ebbed and flowed over the years, but at this point I would say I do them 13 days out of 14.

I have two routines, one based on a combination of yoga poses and core strengthening exercises, the other still firmly grounded in the Canadian Air Force pamphlet that was my father’s guidebook in my youth. Over the years, however, I’ve also added a number of items to each routine. Sometimes I add something picked up at a yoga retreat, other times something I’ve done when visiting one of the exercise classes taught by my daughter-in-law.DSC_8539 ocotillo bird stretch

However, no matter how much I do, it always seems that there’s more I could be doing. When I was in physical therapy after breaking the fifth metatarsal in my left foot last year, I learned that there were some areas of my body that were not being covered in my existing stretch routines, despite the fact that each routine takes me at least 45 minutes to complete. With “around” 300 “skeletal muscles” in the human body, there’s no way I can care for them all and still have time left for, well, the rest of my life. I must be judicious about what I add to my existing routines.

I believe that the spiritual life is probably not so different. While the routines might not be so explicit, we all develop set patterns for how we live out our spiritual lives—and there are times in our lives when we do not do a lot of stretching. Sometimes, in fact, it takes an accident or major break in our daily patterns (if not our bones!) to help us recognize that we need to stretch something new, spiritually.

I invite you to take some time this week to pray about what might need stretching in your spiritual life. As you go about your daily and weekly spiritual—and physical—routines, be open to what might be missing. And if some “accident” or “crisis” has occurred in your life, pray about it. Ask yourself, and God, whether there’s an invitation hidden within that incident, to stretch your spiritual life just a bit.