Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Are You Still Celebrating?

Is Christmas over at your house—or wherever you are staying? IMG_0718Are the decorations still in place, or have they all been taken down and stored away for another year? Are you still focused on the incredible gift of incarnation—of God daring to become one of us? Or are you already focused on the year ahead, and what you will seek and strive to accomplish?

This past week I edited one of what will probably be a million articles and posts on taking a look back at 2014 before diving into 2015. What I liked about the article was the desire of the writer to focus on taking the time to complete 2014 before diving into 2015. He planned to take some time to really focus, and be present, to what needed attention in his life—and had some good, strong, creative and spiritual ways to do that.

I would like to encourage each of us, sometime in the week ahead, to take a few moments—or even a few hours—to prayerfully reflect on celebrating Christ’s incarnation. It is still the season of Christmas, and will be for more than another week. Rather than rushing into what the new year has to offer, take some time to give thanks for what the old year has given.

How might you spend that time? What do you need to complete? What has the incarnation of Jesus into the world really meant in your life?


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Ring the Bells

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

IMG_0710This week I added a number of bells to our Advent/Christmas tree—and found myself thinking, over and over again, of this song by Leonard Cohen.

Advent is a time of assessment, as well as waiting. After all, it’s wise to have some idea of what we’re waiting for. We are not waiting for perfection, nor are we striving for flawlessness. In fact, Jesus was born so that God might enter into our imperfect lives. Incarnation is about becoming human—and humans are by our very nature imperfect.

This does not mean that we do not strive to improve, or to live more fully. But perfection—at least in the common cultural understanding of the word—is not our goal. There is a crack in everything, and it is through that crack that God’s light comes streaming through into our lives.

Thus the goal is not to strive for flawlessness, but to learn how to ring the bells that are good enough to ring. That means singing out our praises even when we know we can’t carry a tune, because the desire to sing, and the joy we find in singing, brings glory to God.

That means being as kind and caring as we can to those who make our lives difficult—not because we think we’re better, but because we’re ringing God’s bell of love in order to change the world, one relationship at a time.

That means giving out of our abundance because the food, clothing, and other goods that we share are bells that ring out messages of hope to the hopeless, warmth in the winter, sufficiency for the hungry, and joy for those who are mired in despair.

Do you live joyously in spite of your imperfections, seeking to spread God’s love without regard for how well you do it?

What bells are you being called to ring in this holy season?


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Becoming Angels

Angels have been on my mind a lot the past couple weeks, as I prepared for and led an Advent retreat entitled The Advent of Jesus Through the Eyes of Others. (Stay tuned, because I intend to offer this retreat online next year!) God’s messengers were busy in the lives of those around Jesus’ incarnation; individual angels appeared to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary, and to Joseph in a dream, while an entire band of angels (How many is a “band,” I wonder?!) appeared to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem. The wise men were also warned in a dream—perhaps by angels—not to return to Herod and tell him exactly where to find the baby Messiah.

IMG_0636Henry and I have accumulated a lot of angels over the years, and this past week I have added a number of them to our Advent tree. They are a very fitting Christmas ornament.

They are also an excellent reminder that God still sends angels into our lives, although most of them do not obviously sport wings or fly. Because of the Holy Spirit, given to us by God after Jesus’ resurrection, we are all equipped to be angels for each other. If you look back across the difficult times in your life, you can doubtlessly come up with moments when someone else became an angelic presence in your life, whether they swooped in with a casserole (or takeout!) after surgery or shared an encouraging word when you were feeling down or hopeless.

In this season, our culture encourages us to be angels for one another—whether it’s the Bling Team paying for holiday shopping or church choir members serenading nursing home residents with Christmas carols. But we don’t need to limit our angelic impulses to the holiday season. There is always the need to spread joy and love, and messages about the surprising ways God continues to manifest in our lives.

How might you be an angel to someone in need today? Next week? Next year?


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Let There Be Light!

Advent 2 2As the Advent season continues, so does the daily decorating process of my Advent-to-Christmas tree.

The first quotation in scripture is “Let there be light.” Tradition has God speaking those words as the first transformation of creation, which was originally crafted as a “formless void” covered in darkness. Light was the first differentiator in creation, and so it seems fitting that adding lights—in this case, votive cups to hold candles—is an appropriate first differentiator between a bare metal infrastructure and a beautiful—and meaningful—symbol of Christmas.

And so I ask, in the creation that is your life, where do you need to add more light? What portions of your life are lived in darkness? Are there aspects of your life that need to be brought out into the light, in this season of prayerful pondering? Are there portions of your life that need attention, need your loving care, perhaps need forgiveness, or even transformation?

And how might you, in this season of increasing darkness, bring light to those around you? Where in the world, or in your neighborhood, does the darkness seem impervious, or perhaps taken for granted? What might you do to shed light in these “dark days” of winter? How might you help others to see the light?