Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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An Accountant’s Nightmare

Henry and I took some vacation time a week ago to visit family and friends in New England. It was a great trip and the autumn leaves were stunning. But this week you’re not getting stunning fall color photos…maybe next week. This week you’re getting some musings on recycling and Caesar.

You see, the night Henry and I stayed in southern Maine, I was thrilled to find recycling containers in the hotel room. I had been keeping our various drink bottles in the back of the car, hoping that I could pawn them off on family for recycling at the end of our trip. I’d forgotten how progressive Maine is with recycling, and had no idea that hotels might have (perhaps be required to have) recycling options in every room. When I mentioned that to Henry, he suggested that I should write a blog about it—and then joked that we could write off the cost of the hotel room if I wrote that blog.

recycleSo I took a picture of the recycling bins, and we had an interesting conversation about what he called “an accountant’s nightmare”—which would occur if I were to write off the hotel room as a business expense because I had managed to incorporate it into my ministry. He pointed out that the gospel lesson for last Sunday involved Jesus outfoxing the accountants of his day—Sadducees and Pharisees—by responding to their query about the lawfulness of taxes by stating that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give to God that which is God’s.

Jesus was those accountants’ nightmare. He turned the established norms and laws on their head, reminding anyone who would listen that God held true primacy in their lives. Sure, the coins were stamped with Caesar’s image, but they were made with metal that, like all of creation, belonged first of all to God. In a sense, if I were to write off that hotel room stay, it would be with dollar bills that were printed with words and images belonging to the US government, but on paper that was once the fruit of thriving cotton plants created by God.

You see, ultimately, everything is God’s, regardless of how we have transformed them through our use. And therefore everything is sacred. And so I ask you: how would it change the way you live your life if you kept in mind that all your money was really God’s? How would it change your life if you were to choose to live in the daily awareness that everything around you—no matter whose image it now bears—belongs to our lavish Creator?



Icing on the Rock of Life

icing rockOn a recent hike my friend and I found a rock that reminded me of a cake—a deep rich cake slathered in a contrasting layer of white icing. Thinking about that now, I have to laugh a bit at myself—still seeing sugar in so many places! But another truth is that it’s a fitting image of our lives sometimes—a fluffy, sugar-coated surface hiding something rich and dark underneath…and in the case of the rock, quite hard.

We all hide certain parts of ourselves beneath a contrasting exterior. “Tough boys” can hide vulnerability, bubbly personalities can hide deep loneliness, and any of us can hide parts of ourselves that we believe won’t be acceptable in certain situations. We slather on that icing, nice and thick, so that people won’t see what we think of as “the hard stuff” that lies underneath.

We also experience rock-hard times in our lives. Dreams short-circuit in the face of reality. We make mistakes which have painful consequences. People move away, or move on, or die “on us.” We might be tempted to pile on the sugar coating, “make the best of things,” but the fact remains that life is full of suffering as well as joy—and if we did not experience the suffering, we wouldn’t have a context for appreciating the joy and beauty that appear at other times.

I asked my friend to let me take a picture of this rock, in her hands, for this blog. She asked if I wanted to keep the rock, and I told her the picture was enough. At the time I was thinking of all the rocks I have accumulated along my life’s journey, and how quickly I forget the stories behind particular rocks, leaving me with a pile of past rocks that have no present meaning for me. It is the image in the moment, rather than something enduring, which tends to be the best teacher for me.

Which might be why God keeps putting rocks in my path—so that I can keep learning.

Are there images, metaphors, or items (like rocks) that repeatedly appear on your own life’s journey? Do you remember the life lessons, the images/metaphors/items, or both? If you become still for a few moments now, is there something in particular that comes to mind?

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Beauty in the Miniscule

mullein grasshopper closeupMy friend and I hiked on Boston Hill again a few days ago, and a number of things caught our attention along the way. Some of our discoveries didn’t photograph so well, such as drops of dew shining on the soft leaves of a mullein plant but, in one photo, I was able to capture the tiny face of a grasshopper hiding within the inner leaves of a plant. Judging from the lacy appearance of the leaves on surrounding specimens, this grasshopper, along with its comrades, had been munching on the other mullein plants in the area and was now going to start in on this one.

What I had not expected, until I downloaded the images at home and saw them full-screen, was the unique beauty in each mullein leaf. I found myself thinking of Velcro or fleece as I observed the texture of these mullein leaves close up. In fact, with their coating of damp dew, they felt more like a very soft towel when I touched one during our hike. They also appear fairly weighty in this photograph, yet in person they felt light as the proverbial feather, and while they look almost white in this close-up, they are in fact a lovely pale green which stood out strongly against their red-rock 1(8)

When did you last take time to really observe something you came across, with more than one of your senses? So often we see something—and keep right on going. Yet every bit of God’s creation, all around us, is full of wonder if we will only take the time to really slow down and investigate. I encourage you to do that this week. Take time to get to know some small thing at a new level.

And then, take time to give thanks to our Creator for the incredible and innumerable gifts we have been given!


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Fungi in the Desert

photo(7)There has been so much rain here in the desert over the past few weeks that my garden mulch (and occasionally my garden itself) is growing mushrooms. While that’s not so surprising, what did surprise me the other morning was finding fungi growing out of the top of a dead yucca!photo(8) I guess it goes to show that anything is possible—under the right conditions.

Of course, we can influence those conditions to some extent. By paying attention to the conditions that make for fungi growth (steady moisture, indirect light, undisturbed soil), I could choose to replicate those conditions (as people do in their basements) and grow even more mushrooms. Or I can let nature take its course and know that these mushrooms will wilt and fade away…or disintegrate?…as the clear, sunny days of fall eventually arrive.

The same is true of our spiritual life. We can cultivate the conditions for growth, for openness to the work of the Spirit in our lives. We can till the soil of our hearts with various spiritual exercises, add compost by taking the time to reflect upon and learn the lessons of our experiences, and plant the seeds for future growth by absorbing scripture and spiritual books, videos, blogs, movies, tweets, etc.

And so I ask you: what are the conditions of your heart? Is it well-tilled, well-composted, fertile soil for the growth of love and compassion, or has it been largely ignored, compacted by the tromp of overactive feet along the pathways of your days?

What would need to happen to make your heart fertile ground for the work of the Spirit?