Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

1 Comment

Easter Abundance

DSC_2403 cropOn the eve of Easter, I fulfilled my first assignment as a rookie photojournalist for the Grant County Beat: capturing images of children at an Easter egg hunt in a local playground. There were 4 hunts, arranged by age, and it’s amazing how fast 250 eggs can be snapped up by dozens of eager young children! I saw at least one child who was in tears afterward, I think because she had been bowled over by the competition, and ended up with no eggs in her basket.

That made me long for the days when Easter egg hunts were less of a competition and more of an excited search. I remember hunting for Easter eggs in the living room of my youth, where they were always hidden well enough that it was much more of an exploration than a smash-and-grab. And there was plenty for everyone—just as 250 eggs certainly should have been enough!

Our world is full of abundance. Despite popular perceptions, there really is enough food in the world for everyone—if it were more equitably distributed. That children’s Easter egg hunt became a snapshot of the issues for me: those more fortunately located and greedier gobbled up more than their share of the eggs, while others were left with empty baskets. And there was no malicious intent in those children who ended up with more; their cultural system had taught them that this was the way to behave.

My own fasting from sugar during Lent also showed me that there is an abundance of other types of healthier(!) calories that I can eat to keep my body sustained—without gaining weight. (In fact, I lost 7 pounds during Lent—which was a great side effect, but not the reason for the fast. And the fact that my clothes were tight before, when others do not have enough to eat, is an indictment of my own unwitting participation in this cultural system!)

There are signs of hope in this, God’s world of abundance. I saw young children sharing eggs with those who received less, and celebrated in my heart that innate sense of equality and interconnectedness that we are all born with. Last year there was a major campaign in the UK to fix the broken food chain, and it achieved some major systemic successes along the road to end hunger.

But there’s more that we need to be doing. Here in the US, one in six people face issues of hunger—despite the relative prosperity of this country on the world stage. So we don’t have to look far, both for the need and for the abundance (there are far too many eating competitions in this country, for starters—there’s plenty of food to go around!).

In this Eastertide (and beyond?), I invite you to consider your own food, your own abundance, and how you might be called by God to share with those less fortunate, and/or to work for change at the systemic level.



Peacocks and Resurrection

Happy Easter, everyone! While on my recent retreat I learned that peacocks are traditionally connected with resurrection, because each year the males shed their brightly colored feathers and grow new ones in a “resurrection” of sorts. That makes them a particularly appropriate subject for meditation on this Resurrection Sunday.DSC_2000

I enjoyed coming across members of Holy Trinity Monastery’s flock of 6 peacocks and 3 peahens during my time there. Their calls, however, are not nearly as lovely, and occasionally their scream-like sounds would startle me out of a prayerful state…or a doze! I found them roosting just about anywhere during the day, including a long, narrow flower bed that fit a peacock’s tail perfectly!DSC_2086 flowerbed crop

Pondering peacocks, I find myself thinking about Jesus’ interactions with his followers after his resurrection. In many cases, they did not recognize Jesus when he first appeared to them—think about Mary Magdalene in the garden, and the three men on the road to Emmaus. Even once their eyes were “opened” to see that it was Jesus, there’s no record that he looked in any way special to them—in fact, he looked so much the same that he still had the nail marks on his hands. The peacocks also don’t seem to look any different once they’ve grown their new feathers.

Yet Jesus was radically transformed by his death and resurrection—in ways that the gospels are barely able to put into words. Resurrection is both amazing, and amazingly subtle. The transformation that took place within Jesus was not something his followers could see, or sense. Yet the fact of resurrection had the power to utterly transform his life, and it has the same power to transform our lives and our priorities—if we are willing to allow it.

What kinds of transformation, if any, have you experienced as a result of Jesus’ resurrection? Did it change your outward appearance in any way, or was the transformation a more subtle, inner one?

What in your life needs to experience the power of resurrection, today and in the days ahead?


A Holy Week

Thank you for your prayers this past week—a holy week for me as I took time away for retreat. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to get still and go deep in time with God…and perhaps less amazed at how much time I spent napping the first day! There was certainly a level of exhaustion that needed to be addressed—something that many of you probably also share.

I’m still pondering my retreat time and what I saw and heard within it. I spent the time at Holy Trinity Monastery in southeastern Arizona. I enjoyed the heat of the sun and the great variety of birds, including a flock of peacocks (more on them next week). I appreciated the chance to immerse myself in the daily office liturgies, which once formed a major part of my spiritual life (some of you may know that I met my husband Henry at a monastery in Massachusetts!).

DSC_2019One amazing thing about the desert heat is its ability to dry out dead wood and leave fantastic shapes for all the world to see. I saw faces in old tree stumps (one of which formed the base of the altar in the church) and a dragon’s mouth—or a cock’s comb?—in a crumbling cottonwood tree. DSC_2300That dead wood had the power to teach me about seeing the face of God in everything—including the “dead wood” of my own former years!

I also pondered some questions about this stage in my life—about my core purpose and desires for my ministries in the months ahead. Questions that arose included where I am most authentic and what exactly is the gospel that I “preach” in what I do. Ultimately I believe it is the gospel of Love.

A love that is manifest in the biblical story of this Holy Week. God became incarnate in Jesus out of love, and Jesus walked that road to Calvary out of love. We all still have so much to learn about living that love in our own lives. In this Holy Week, I invite you to focus on the meaning of love in your own life, and what that Love might be calling out of you—in this and every holy week of your life.




DSC_1981A few days ago we drove the truck out to a friend’s house to fetch some manure that’s been aging in her back yard. She has three horses, so she’s got all the manure I need for the plants and planting beds in my garden. The good thing about having her age it on her property (where her horses couldn’t care less) is that it was dried out and not smelly when we shoveled it into the bed of our truck.

I’ve actually been writing a lot about manure lately—a series of articles for a client. I’ve learned a lot, and remembered some things I had forgotten. Most manure cannot be used fresh on the garden, because it’s too “hot” (with quick-release nitrogen) and will burn the plants. Instead, it should be aged (or composted, which will also kill any viable seeds) prior to spreading around plants.

Aging is on my mind right now, as I turn 50 years old this week. A lot of people have talked with me over the past few months about how they’ve celebrated milestone birthdays, and while those activities sounded great for those folks, none of the ideas really appealed to me. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I realized that what I really wanted to do was take some time for retreat. I wanted time in quiet and stillness, away from words and the computer, and the busy activities of my life.

I also want the time to reflect on my fifty years of life. Like the manure we shoveled, much of my life is well aged, and sometimes even composted. There’s a lot of nutritional value hidden in there—and it feels very important to spend some time digging into that compost pile of my life and spreading those nutrients around a bit in my internal, spiritual garden.

So I’ve carved out three days (plus travel time) to take myself on retreat this week. I invite your prayers for me in this time. I’m trusting that much of what I dig and discover will find its way into my blogs and the other facets of my ministry in the months and years ahead.

Are you in need of some time to dig into your own spiritual compost? Are there life experiences which are aged enough to be of value to you now?