Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Anticipation and Expectation

DSC_1642This week’s hike was filled with wildflowers. Although it hasn’t rained for about ten days now, there’s been enough moisture to get the plants flowering, at least along the area where we walked. We saw some familiar wildflowers, but also many that we did not recognize. As we were completing our hike, my companion laughingly said that the bar was now set pretty high for these hikes, with fossils one week and abundant wildflowers the next.

Without in any way denigrating my friend—because she said this in a light-hearted manner—her comment got me thinking about expectations. So often our expectations and assumptions lead to disappointment—whether it’s something as simple as expecting to really enjoy a special meal, or something as complex and expensive as enjoying “the event of a lifetime” or a long-anticipated vacation.

I think the key lies in how we approach these events in our lives. It’s one thing to look forward to something with anticipation: wondering what it will be like, curious about what we will see, do, or experience. It’s something else entirely to assume how it will turn out, expect exactly what we will enjoy, or believe that we know precisely how an event or experience will unfold.

When we approach something with anticipation, we bring wonder and “fresh eyes” to what could be an “old” experience—like hiking some particular trail—and find it brand new because of the fleeting presence of wildflowers. When we approach something with expectation, we bring our agenda about what we will experience, which often has the effect of metaphorically closing our eyes to new and unusual experiences—and perhaps even literally preventing our brains from registering something new which our eyes might otherwise see.

What would it be like, today and in the days ahead, for you to let go—as much as possible—of all assumptions about how your days will go and expectations as to what you will experience? What if you opened your eyes, and the eyes of your heart, to welcome new experiences, new sights, with anticipation?

How might that openness lead you to see God’s creation, and the gifts inherent in each day, in a new light?


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Ancient History

photo(6)This week’s hike took us up a hill northwest of town, where we saw more gray rocks that seemed to be flowing over and encasing other rocks—similar to what I talked about last week. But as we were hiking back, we took a closer look at one patch of gray rocks and discovered that some of them included hundreds of little fossils! photo 1(5)These fossils came in a variety of shapes and sizes, and one even looked like a tiny wing. Fascinating and infinitely varied, these imprints of ancient history seem to indicate another possible cause of the encasement of one type of rock by another: the motion of sea and sand.

It’s hard to imagine that this desert landscape, and these rocks perched high on a hill, were once part of an ancient sea bed, but we know from scientific studies that mountains harbor ancient sea beds in other places as well. These hills are filled with ancient history, about which I know very little because I have not undertaken much study of rocks and the stories that they have to tell.

There is ancient history all around us, no matter where we live. There is also ancient history in our scriptures, and if we do not undertake to study them, we can miss much of what they might have to tell us. Today I am preaching at a local church, and so I have been immersing myself more deeply in a few passages of scripture than I normally would, and it’s been fun to see what caught my attention.

For one thing, rocks appear to be a theme in my life right now. In addition to these rocks I am encountering on my walks, there are rocks mentioned in today’s scripture lessons. For example, Isaiah 51:1b says, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” The prophet goes on to say that by this he means our spiritual ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Today’s gospel, in Matthew 16:18a, recounts Jesus saying to another of our spiritual ancestors, “I tell you, you are Peter [which means “rock”], and on this rock I will build my church.”

So I ask you: which spiritual ancestors have been the foundational rocks in your life? What ancient history has shaped you, or left its imprint on you? In what ways are you carrying on their mission?

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In What Do You Immerse Yourself?

My weekly hikes are turning into wonderful opportunities for reflection and inspiration! This past week’s hike took place in an open space near Silver City called Boston Hill (because the area was owned in the early 1880s by the Massachusetts and New Mexico Mining Company), which today is home to a number of abandoned mines, volcanic rocks and, during monsoon season, a nice array of wildflowers. photo 2(4)One of the things that caught my attention, however, were these rocks, which had clearly completely encased rocks of a very different sort. Here, the lighter, softer rock has worn away, exposing the tougher, multi-colored rocks. Given the volcanic nature of the area, I found myself wondering if perhaps that lighter rock is volcanic ash, which settled around these other rocks and eventually encased them.

I also found myself remembering the little joke about the baby fish asking “Momma, what’s ‘water’?” Water being, of course, for fish what air is for humans: that ubiquitous element that surrounds us and is always touching us, that we breathe in and out, and that we cannot conceive of as anything apart from our experience of it. For literally thousands, perhaps millions, of years, those multi-colored rocks were completely encased in the lighter rock; if they had the ability to perceive, they would not have known there was an existence that did not involve the rocks in which they were encased.

That is, until the lighter rocks wore down or were flaked away, and the multi-colored rocks were—for them, “suddenly”—exposed to air, and wind-blown dust, and rain. An entirely new type of existence was forced upon them—in much the same way as fish caught on a line or in a net are suddenly exposed to air after a lifetime of only experiencing water.

All this led me to think about the experience of being immersed in God’s love. I believe it is very similar to our experience of air, and a fish’s experience of water. As the Psalmist says (139:5), “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” In Romans 8:38-39, Paul says “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Are you aware of being surrounded by that love of God? Are you ever conscious of breathing love in and out, just as you do air? Or are you most aware of love when you feel separated from it?

Do you know that God’s love comes to you via grace, and that you are immersed in it, whether you will it or not?

Besides air, and love, in what else do you immerse yourself? Are those things helpful, or harmful, to you?


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Blurring the Boundaries of Work

In the past few weeks I’ve taken on a number of photojournalist assignments, in part because the editor of the Grant County Beat is taking some time out of town, and needed me to cover more events. In a couple of cases, however, Henry and I have decided to go to an event, and I let her know I would be going and asked if she wanted me to take pictures since I would be there anyway. So, in a sense, we were combining business and pleasure.

Then, a couple of days ago, a client asked if I ever worked on the weekends. I said yes, I often work Saturdays, so we set an appointment to have a conversation on Saturday afternoon. As I was uploading pictures that evening for an event I had just covered, I found myself thinking about the very clear boundaries that many companies these days try to create between work and time away—and how I’m discovering that life in a small town, and in my life as a freelancer, often just doesn’t work that way.

DSC_3991And then I recalled the fact that, for many earlier generations, in this country and others, the home was also the workplace, because they farmed or ranched, or because the carpentry or mechanic’s shop was on the same property as the home. Going out to milk the cows, or let the chickens out of their coop in the morning, was as natural as breathing, and as much a part of work as turning on my computer in the mornings.

In fact, those theoretically clear boundaries between work and the rest of life are fairly recent, and rather artificial in nature. Employees who check email or make personal phone calls at their desks seem to me to be tapping into a deeper and older tradition that sees life as one fabric with a variety of threads. Even Jesus actually commended the “dishonest” manager (Luke 16) for putting human relationships ahead of the accumulation of wealth—and I certainly don’t hear that parable lauded in business circles today!

So what does all this mean? For me, it’s about living “in this world but not of it” (John 17), in the sense of recognizing when it’s beneficial to follow artificial rules, and when the flexibility of the freelance life is actually, also, an invitation to live in a more integrated way. As Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, who didn’t “get” the message of his parable about the manager, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

How do you seek to justify yourself in the eyes of others, instead of in the heart of God? When have you “blurred the boundaries” in your life? Where might you need to become less “honest” in the world’s terms, in order to act more faithfully as a child of God?


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A Balancing Act

photo 1(2)On my weekly hike with a friend a few days ago, we came upon an unusually shaped cairn of stones alongside the path. These piles of stones are set along the way to let hikers know that they are still on the right path, and people sometimes will add another stone as they walk by.

It’s a little hard to tell in this photo, but this cairn of stones is balanced between two larger rocks, with a good amount of empty airspace left underneath. Creating this cairn was obviously a careful balancing act, and the fact that it has remained in place shows how carefully it was originally constructed.

That balancing act fits in well with a concept I’ve been revisiting this past week. One of my clients is ready for me to copyedit a draft novel, which he has spent the past few months carefully cutting down in size. Despite his work, it is still a very large document, and will keep me busy for many weeks, in the spaces between my other jobs. I was reflecting out loud to my friend about the importance of balance as I anticipate this season of an abundance of work. I will need to make certain to create a balance between hours at the computer and hours away from it; between words and stillness, activity and relaxation.

All of our lives are balancing acts, and those balances ebb and flow with the days and seasons of our lives. There will be times that are more active, and others that are more contemplative. In fact, Richard Rohr, Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, where I used to work, states that the most important word in the organization’s title is “and”—because of that need for balance.

photo 1(3)One of the important ways I will keep my weekly balance is to continue to hike. I am very grateful for the proximity of our beautiful Gila Wilderness and the Continental Divide Trail, which gives us the gift of stunning views like this only an hour’s drive and hike from town. Another way to keep my balance is a daily rhythm of prayer and stillness, “hanging out” with God.

What does your current balancing act look like? Does it tend more toward action or contemplation? How might you move your rhythms more into balance, on a daily, weekly, and/or yearly basis?