Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Don’t Get Attached to Results

Today is the final blog in my series of four lessons from the Biblical story of Jonah. The four lessons are:

  • Show up
  • Pay attention
  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t get attached to results

Attachment is tricky. We all need some level of attachment in our lives; if we weren’t attached to the need for food, clothing, and shelter, we wouldn’t survive. If we weren’t attached to others, we wouldn’t experience love and joy—and also pain and grief.

Jonah’s problem was that his attachments were connected with expectations. The fourth (and last) chapter of the book of Jonah is all about his attachment to his own expectations about the results of things. He was angry because God told him to proclaim punishment to the Ninevites, but then God relented and did not punish them when the Ninevites repented. I imagine Jonah thinking, “This makes me look bad! I said God would punish them, and he hasn’t!” So God grows a bush to teach Jonah a lesson—and sure enough, Jonah gets attached to the lovely shade provided by the bush, then angry again when he loses it.

You see, the root of Jonah’s problem is his attachment. If he had been able to metaphorically take a step back and see the Ninevites from God’s perspective—with love and compassion, and a strong desire that they would change their ways, for the benefit of all—then he would not have run away in the first place, but instead would have happily gone to Nineveh to preach, probably with a different spin: “Here’s a way that you can avoid the calamity that is coming upon you!”

Buddhists talk a lot about non-attachment, in ways that are in keeping with this lesson from Jonah. They believe that attachment to things, results, and expectations is the root cause of suffering. In the late Middle Ages, St. Ignatius of Loyola used the word “indifference” in a very positive way, as an indicator of the importance of being indifferent to, or detached from, the results of our prayers. His method of prayer is still widely used today, and the message continues to be an important one. We need to trust that God has in view a bigger picture that, at times, we cannot possibly comprehend.

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Photo courtesy Henry Hoffman

So how often do you act like Jonah, responding purely from your attachment to results, rather than from a God’s-eye perspective? What would it take for you to be indifferent to the results of your prayers, your actions, or your way of life? Can you trust God to be keeping tabs on that bigger picture, and perhaps sending modern-day Jonahs to preach to modern-day Ninevahs?

Have you ever been called upon by God to preach a message like Jonah’s?


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Tell the Truth

Two weeks ago I started a series of four blogs on lessons from the Biblical story of Jonah. Those four things are:

  • Show up
  • Pay attention
  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t get attached to results

DSC_8728 quailThis week my reflections have to do with telling the truth. Interestingly, this has also come up in The Conscious Booksmith class that I’m taking. In that context, the issue had to do with telling the truth in a memoir. Now, obviously, when it comes to sharing our experiences, truth is often subjective and probably fluid as well. For example, my memories of my sister’s wedding are likely quite different from my sister’s. This doesn’t mean that either of us is not telling the truth; instead, we are telling our truth, which is part of a larger truth which encompasses both our experiences.

We can probably all call to mind times when a friend or family member is recounting a story and we think, “That’s not how it happened.” Sometimes we even say those words out loud—and perhaps that results in an argument over exactly what did occur. But what if everyone was willing to recognize that each of our truths is, at best, only partial? What if we were less hung up on “the” truth than on recognizing the beautiful patterns that can result from each of us contributing our own truths to a larger whole?

Furthermore, what if, like with Jonah and the people of Nineveh, telling the truth—as we see it—actually changed things for the better? Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what the people of Nineveh were doing wrong. What matters is that, at some deep level, they knew it. They knew the truth of what Jonah was proclaiming, and recognized the need to repent and change their ways.

What if, instead of focusing on “my” truth versus “your” truth, we repented and got together to focus on the bigger, broader truths? What if, instead of focusing on who’s “right” and who’s “wrong,” we focused on what’s right?

What would that look like in your life? What would that look like in your community? What first step could you take along that journey today?

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Pay Attention

Last week I began talking about a series of four lessons from the Biblical story of Jonah that are applicable in our lives today. Those four things are:

  • Show up
  • Pay attention
  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t get attached to results

Today I want to talk about paying attention. This past week I started an online class called The Conscious Booksmith, and part of what has come up for me in working through the exercises and conversing in the very active online group has been my ongoing struggle with determining my priorities and figuring out what I am called to be doing at this time in my life. In response to one of my relatively agonized queries about this, our leader suggested that I “find a quiet space to sit still and LISTEN to what your body is telling you.”DSC_0663 yellow eyed look

Ah, yes. Paying attention. Making the time to get still in prayer and really listen. I’m beginning to sense a theme in my life here! So often I—and so many of us—just don’t slow down enough to pay attention. So, a few days ago, when I finished one segment of work for a client, I just took the time (as much to give my back a break as anything else), lay on the floor of my office, and just felt my body being pulled toward the rug by gravity.

When is the last time you’ve really paid attention to something so omnipresent as gravity? We develop routines in our lives, and eventually stop noticing those things which are part of the routine. Another example might be the last time that you really paid attention to the view out your bedroom window. I mean, really paid attention to what was out there. Not what might be different—such as a ground squirrel digging in your newly landscaped rock garden—but what is really there.

When Jonah ran away from God’s call, he got on a boat that was headed out into the ocean. He probably took the boat, and the ocean, for granted, and it wasn’t until the storm blew in that he began to really pay attention to his surroundings. The sailors, on the other hand, who were used to paying close attention to the behavior of the ocean, did not take it for granted. They recognized that this storm was unusual, and so they first cast lots (an ancient method of establishing an answer to a question) to determine the cause of the problem, then prayed for God’s forgiveness when they threw Jonah overboard, believing it was the only option left to them.

Where in your life do you need to pay attention? Is gravity pulling on you as you sit and read this blog? Are you needing to get still and listen in order to discern or prioritize events in your busy life? Do you need to pay attention to something in your environment because it is not behaving like “normal”? Is God, perhaps, trying to get your attention in some way?

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Show Up

A number of years ago I attended a staff workshop led by Suzanne Stabile. While she shared a number of gems over the course of the day, one has stuck with me through the years. She was talking about the story of Jonah, the Hebrew prophet who tried to run away from God’s call. If you aren’t familiar with Jonah, you can read his story here.

Suzanne said that we can learn four lessons from Jonah’s story that will help us in a lot of everyday situations. Those four things are:

  • Show up
  • Pay attention
  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t get attached to results

Over the next few weeks I want to reflect on each of these elements, because I think they have a lot to teach me at this point in my life, and probably each of us.

The first element is to show up. This means that we need to go—and sometimes stay—where we are called. Jonah was called to go to Nineveh to preach a message from God. He decided that he didn’t want to do this, and literally ran away. Sometimes I also have run away. At other times, Henry and I have followed those directives to “go”—which is how we ended up moving from Massachusetts to New Mexico, and from one city to another within this wonderful state.DSC_2314 taking off

But the showing up isn’t always about leaving everything behind. Last week I followed the nudge to attend a Tuesday evening Vespers service—and arrived to find the door locked. I decided to hang around since I was a few minutes early, and someone else arrived shortly after I did. We entered into a conversation that turned out to be very powerful, and empowering, for both of us. In fact, at the end of the conversation we decided to explicitly become companions on our respective, and related, journeys, checking in each week to share what we’ve accomplished and be accountable to each other for reaching our goals.

I might have missed this gift of a companion for this stage of my journey if I had not listened to the Spirit speaking within me, telling me that I needed to show up.

When in your life have you followed those directives to show up—in both small and large instances—and found your life transformed by God in wondrous and miraculous ways?

When have you run away from the call to show up? What were the consequences?

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New Life

quail babies DSC_2712This past week I saw this year’s group of baby quail for the first time. Their feathers actually blend in beautifully with their surroundings, and I’m sure that’s a genetic adaptation that has helped a number of baby quail to escape the talons of red-tailed hawks like the one that was soaring around our house earlier this morning.

Death and life are intimately intertwined. Death feeds life every time we take a bite of food into our mouths. We may agonize over the deaths that shock us, such as the car and plane crashes I mentioned last week, but many other deaths occur daily, unrecognized by most of us as we go about the routine tasks of our lives.

There are also the “little deaths,” or those ways in which each of us die daily. The cells in our bodies are constantly dying and being replaced, which means that we are literally not the same people that we were last year, or even last month. We suffer (figuratively, and sometimes literally) little deaths when plans do not come to fruition, jobs or important events end, friendships come and go. All of this is part of a cycle of life that is just as real as feeding baby birds with whatever that red-tailed hawk has managed to catch for lunch in the fields around our house.

The good news is that those little deaths do feed new life. Friends move, and others move in to take their place. New jobs start, new babies are born. They are not the same, and we often mourn the losses and notice the differences, but over time we eventually come to recognize the unique value in each life and each new experience. At some point we might even come to recognize that each moment is an irreplaceable gift from God.

When is the last time you took time to give thanks for the present moment?

Take some time this week to watch for, and give thanks for, the new life in your life.