Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Death in Eastertide


The past few days have been filled with sudden death in southwestern New Mexico. On Thursday there was a horrific crash and fire on the interstate, near the Arizona border, that was caused by the high winds and reduced visibility of a sandstorm and claimed seven victims. On Friday, a small plane crashed near our small, local airport, killing four people.

My prayers are with all of these victims, and their families, in these traumatic days, and the days and weeks ahead.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I imagine that none of those who were killed expected to die last week. I presume they had plans for the future, expectations about how their lives would unfold, and events they were looking forward to. Some of them, such as the airplane pilot and truck drivers, had left for work expecting to return home when their job was done, just as they had many times before. But this time, they did not.

Over the years I’ve read a number of books where the protagonist has a near brush with death and is forced to face the fragility and uncertainty of life. This usually leads to a declaration of love, or a reconciliation with estranged family members or friends. It seems that, no matter how long we live, we need regular reminders that we will not live forever.

I invite you to join me in prayer for the souls of those who have died this past week, and for the family members who no longer have a chance to declare their love or ask for forgiveness. And then I invite you to take this opportunity to recognize the preciousness of life. Is there someone with whom you need to reconcile, even if you have not stood at death’s doorway recently? Do you need to risk declaring your love—and the possibility of future pain, should death come visit someday—as it will, eventually, for all of us?

Chances are just as high that you will die in your bed, of old age, perhaps surrounded by loving children singing to you, as a clergy friend of mine experienced this past week. In this very different scenario of death, his mother had time to say her goodbyes, attend to any reconciliations, and depart with minimal unfinished business. That is a gift for all involved.

But we cannot guarantee which way we will go.

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Seeds


DSC_2703I’ve been planting a lot of seeds in my garden this past week. Some of them, like squash, are large and tan, easy to place and cover with the dark, rich soil I’ve imported to supplement our desert clay and sand. Others, like basil and oregano, are tiny and dark, disappearing from my sight the moment they hit the earth.

None of these seeds are “fresh.” The last time I had a vegetable garden was two years ago, and many of these seeds were purchased or harvested in 2010 and 2011. Yet I have confidence that they will grow—in part because of the success I had with the tomato seeds, which started on our guest room windowsill two months ago. Out of the dozen varieties I planted, only one type of seed did not sprout.

This leads me to have confidence in what I’ve read about seeds—they will wait years for the right conditions before taking the leap of faith and sprouting. Seed companies might urge us to purchase fresh seeds every year, but for the most part there is no need; as long as my vegetable and herb seeds are kept in dark, cool, dry conditions, they seem to survive just fine, even after a number of years of waiting.

It also turns out that some seeds have developed some amazingly different germination triggers over the millennia. There are plants that will grow best only if they get first crack at an environment that has been devastated by fire, and these seeds actually sprout in response to high heat and fire-bright light, or the chemicals in charred wood and smoke!

All this has me thinking about the God-planted seeds within my soul, some of which have taken many years to germinate. Sometimes this is due to my fears; other times it has to do with whether I am able to give sufficient time and energy to that deep desire that occasionally nudges me.

For example, I first learned to take and develop photographs as a teenager, but let it go over the years as other pursuits claimed higher priority in my life. At that time I never would have imagined that photography would eventually form an integral part of my spiritual life, and now my spiritual ministry. Yet when I was ready, that seed planted deep within me began to sprout, and now my images have graced not just our hallway walls, but spiritual CD covers, online meditations and classes, and the slide shows at last month’s Spiritual Directors International’s conference in Santa Fe. I even have a book underway which pairs my photographic images with meditations on prayer.

I invite you to ponder those seeds that have sprouted in your own lives. How did it happen? Did those seeds require the gentle nurturing of sun and moisture, or the seeming devastation of fire and smoke?

What seeds might now be awaiting germination within you? How might you encourage them to sprout?


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Celebrating Eastertide


Is Easter still on your minds these days? We are still in Eastertide but, like with Christmas, I sense that most people celebrate the day itself and then move on, forgetting that Easter is not just a day, but also a season.

The season of Eastertide is fifty days, longer than Lent, and yet it tends to get less attention than Lent. It seems that we are better at the celebration of discipline than we are at the discipline of celebration.

DSC_0786 swing

Image taken at Desert Harbor (desertharborretreat.com)

This year I am doing my best to celebrate Eastertide by regaining balance in my life. I overworked myself in Lent, and for months prior to that, so it seems fitting, and health-giving, to celebrate Easter by resurrecting balance. Giving myself permission to relax, and breathe, and celebrate each day of my life, seems a fitting way to acknowledge the gift of life that comes with resurrection.

What might it mean to intentionally celebrate the rest of Eastertide? We have almost a month left, as Pentecost (the end of Eastertide) isn’t until June 8 this year. How might you continue to live an Easter life in the days ahead?


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Expanding Ministry


Everyone’s connected but no one is connecting
The human element has long been missing
Tell me, have you seen it?

—Armin van Buuren, “Alone”

This EDM song caught my attention shortly after it came out. The message is a pretty strong indictment of the down side of electronic communications—the element of human connection is missing in much of what is sent out over the electronic airwaves these days. Certainly the amount of vitriol and “dissing” of others shows a fundamental lack of awareness of the human souls on the receiving end of so many tweets and blogs.

However, there are also definite advantages to electronic communication. Most of my income is earned remotely, and everything would certainly take longer if all the documents I edit and articles I write had to be sent to clients via snail mail. I smile when I find myself wondering what my grandparents would think of the idea that I am willing to receive and make payments with money that I never see except on a computer screen!

DSC_1192In late April I attended the annual conference of Spiritual Directors International. This year, SDI’s conference was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico—a mere(!) 5.5 hours’ drive from my home. I also helped prepare for the conference, gathering photographic images of sacred spaces in New Mexico to be woven into electronic slide shows displayed throughout the weekend. Many of the images I gathered were transmitted to me via email, and all of them were passed on to SDI electronically.

It was the first time in probably 15 years that I had attended the SDI conference in person, and one of my major take-aways was the energy of connecting, face to face, with literally hundreds of other spiritual guides. Listening to their stories, sharing hard-earned wisdom and lingering questions, I experienced a deep sense of connection that I believe comes from sharing space and experiences together.

I also eagerly attended the workshop of a young woman whose spiritual guidance ministry is conducted exclusively via email, phone, and Skype. I was very interested in the experience and wisdom she had to share, as I am pondering my own next steps into spiritual ministry in an electronic world. Then, a few days ago, I conducted my own first spiritual guidance session via Skype.

This is a strange new world for some people, and the only known world for others. Where are you on that spectrum? Does the concept of electronic communication and ministry leave you feel disconnected, or connecting? Is God inviting you into any new communication pathways?