Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Paella and People


IMG_0855Last night Henry and I tried our hand at making paella for the first time. Paella is a destination dish for Henry; we’ve had it in Spain, Puerto Rico, and San Diego, as well as numerous places in between. But this was our first time to try making it ourselves—out in the middle of the desert.

If I do say so myself, we did a pretty good job for first-timers. We splurged on real Spanish chorizo and found mussels, scallops, and shrimp at our local market. We used the genuine saffron that’s been sitting in our cupboard for a while—and the rice ended up with the rich, yellow color it was supposed to.

I’ve found myself thinking about first-timers because of today’s gospel lesson. In it we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The first people he explicitly called into service were fishermen. These were people who spent their days catching seafood at the place where the desert meets the Galilean Sea—although they caught sardines and tilapia (also called St. Peter’s Fish), not scallops, mussels, and shrimp (which were considered unclean).

Out on the water, harvesting fish, these fishermen saw the full spectrum of life, in all its rich beauty. They were secure in their place in the economic food chain—until Jesus called them from the sea and invited them to participate instead in the spiritual food chain that he was putting into place.

That spiritual food chain would be focused on a hunger for God in the people around them, rather than the people’s need for physical nourishment. Fishing for people would require Jesus’ disciples to learn a different set of skills—and a different perspective on “catching” something. When they said “yes” to Jesus’ call to cast their nets elsewhere, they became first-timers, entering new waters, with little idea of what lay ahead.

Fortunately, Jesus provided for his new followers a roadmap, or a recipe of sorts. We call it the Sermon on the Mount, and it includes such classic lines as “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “You are the light of the world.” Listening to Jesus, those fishermen must have felt like fish out of water—at the same time that their hearts were catching fire.

Have there been times in your life when you’ve felt like a fish out of water, called into new experiences, becoming first-timers…again? How did you cope? What did you learn?

When we follow the recipe of the gospels, we learn how to catch people in the net of God’s love, and share God’s abundant riches of mercy and grace. I invite you to read the Sermon on the Mount this week and ponder Jesus’ recipe for the spiritual life. What elements are new to you? What elements can you live out in your sleep? What is in this sermon that might be missing from your personal recipe?

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The Web of Love


I want to share what happened one day last week. I learned via a church prayer request email that a preteen member of the congregation, who had a tonsillectomy two weeks prior, was rushed to “the big city” two hours away because of bleeding. That day was filled with conversations and prayers with various people, and ended with the gift of an email that said in part, “she stopped bleeding spontaneously and…the doctors told her mother, ‘This just doesn’t happen.’”

Well, it does happen, in a world where love abounds and prayers are answered.

That evening I was conversing with someone else, who wondered how God could possibly pay attention to the individual prayers of over seven billion people around the world. This is how I found myself responding (inspired by the Spirit, I believe):

IMG_1106We are increasingly aware that we live within an intricately interconnected web of life here on earth. Everything is interwoven, and every choice we make determines not just our own path, but those of others. It’s like when we tug on the edge of a spider web and the entire web moves. I believe that, as we all talked about and prayed for that young woman, the web of connection vibrated with love, drawing God’s attention to the situation and opening the way for healing.

Exactly how it all works, I wouldn’t presume to know. But I do know that prayer brings healing, and love can indeed transform the world.

What do you think? Have you seen this happen? Do you believe in this web of love, through which God acts in the world?


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A Fog Blog


That “taste of snow” last week turned into a whopper—6 inches! A week later, despite a few days in the mid-fifties, there was still snow on the ground, at least in the shade and on the north side of homes and hillsides. IMG_0821Then fog rolled in last Friday…another very unusual event for New Mexico. Amazing, thick, pea-soup fog, the likes of which I don’t remember seeing since I lived in New England! I spent another day distracted from the computer, and in awe of creation’s amazing variety….

Fog obscures our view, and changes our perspective. Mountains that normally feel close by are slowly shrouded by layers of mist until they disappear completely, helping us recognize that they’re much further away than they appeared. Things that we “know” are out there, we can no longer see—and can sometimes forget.

I’m editing a fascinating book about an abbess in early-seventeenth-century France, and am finding much to ponder in her niece-and-biographer’s contemplative interpretations on the events in this abbess’s life. She talks about how we sometimes appear to lose our way, to lose touch with God’s guidance, or voice. She wonders whether this is, in fact, part of the nature of God’s plan for us—that there are lessons we won’t learn without the experience of losing our way in a fog of one sort or another.

In the case of the abbess, her biographer believed that the agendas of those “in the world,” outside of the abbey’s walls, for a time came to overwhelm the voice of God within this abbess’s life. It’s as if a worldly fog enveloped the abbey, preventing the abbess from seeing the God who was there all the time. Only when the fog had lifted was she able to see again with clarity, and shape her life—and that of the abbey—appropriately.

Has this happened in your life? Have you lost your way in a fog of one sort or another? What did you lose sight of in that time? What did you learn in that process?

IMG_0824Are you perhaps lost in the fog now? If so, remember that God is there, even if you no longer see, or sense, that divine presence. We are never alone, but sometimes our sight is obscured for a time. Hunker down, as if you were a tree in winter. Focus on tending your roots, and waiting with patience. Spring winds will come, and blow that fog away….


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Taking the Baby into 2015


Happy New Year! This week we finally got a taste of winter snow—which left Henry grumbling about “this is why we left New England!” as he cleaned off the car to go to work.

I, on the other hand, found myself mesmerized by the snow. My friend and I had canceled our weekly hike, leaving me with the gift of being able to stay home, warm and dry, and work all day. Like a young child, I found myself drawn to the windows to watch the flakes fall, hour after hour. The silent beauty captivated me. The layers of landscape, increasingly obscured by the accumulation of tiny bits of white, drew me in like a magnet. I was perfectly content to just sit and watch it through the windows—which was a great spiritual exercise in slowing down and living in the moment, even as it put my day’s work in jeopardy.

When did you last truly take time to pay attention to the first snowfall of the season? When did you last let the wonder of a child guide your actions, or slow you down to truly experience something precious, and as fleeting as snow in the desert?

IMG_0778This is still the Christmas season, even though our culture is barreling on into 2015. I invite you to take the Christ child with you into the new year. Let him remind you to take time to wonder, to savor, to live in the moment. While you do this, remember also to give thanks for the gift of this new year, and all the blessed moments that will come with it.