Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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It’s Time to Begin

I have a series of favorite songs, mostly electronic dance music, that I listen to in the car to help keep me alert on my long drives through New Mexico. Occasionally, a particular song will stick with me, and I’ll repeat the song over and over, singing along…and sometimes pondering why, after hearing it so many times, this particular song would have something new to say to me.

Recently the song was “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons. On the day I drove, I just enjoyed the song, the energy, and another phrase in the chorus that is important to me: “I’m never changing who I am.” On the days when I struggle to believe in myself, in what I’m called to do, this is an important line for me.

The next morning I awoke with “It’s time to begin” in my mind—over and over—and realized that, as with spring, I am beginning something new, even at the ripe old age of…over 50. Two weeks ago, on the eve of my birthday, I officially got my first gig as a writing coach. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked to do this, but it’s the first time that I’ve actually embraced the role.

Part of what has me so excited about this new part of my professional life is that it definitely has a spiritual component. What was so wonderful about my conversation with this new client was the ways in which the Holy Spirit took charge of the questions that I asked as the conversation progressed, and what a difference that made in the depth of the conversation, and the energy of the commitment. It was very clear to me that this was an invitation for me into another facet of my work as a wordsmith and as a spiritual guide—a meshing of these two worlds in new ways.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so “it’s time to begin” something new—in this season of spring. It doesn’t matter how old you are; you can always begin something new. The saguaro cactus doesn’t begin to grow its iconic arms until after it is a century old. Certainly, then, we who are so much (or not so much) younger, can always be open to new beginnings in our own lives.

What is looking to grow in your life this spring? It’s time to begin!DSC_5517




I spent much of yesterday in tears. I attended the memorial service of Harold M. Daniels, who was pastor of the Presbyterian church in which I was raised, and instrumental in spoiling me for any other Presbyterian church by introducing the Great Vigil of Easter and other liturgical “reforms and renewals” during my youth. A major part of the reason that I became an Episcopalian 20+ years ago was that the Episcopal Church puts more emphasis on liturgy and sacraments—which became very important to me in large part because of the influence of Harold Daniels.

IMG_1269What first brought me to tears yesterday was walking into the sanctuary at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and seeing that they had hung four of the banners in the front of the church that used to hang in the smaller sanctuary when I was young. Created in the height of the 1970s, they have a certain look to them that is probably anachronistic to most people today. For me, however, they immediately evoked memories of a passionately engaged, growing congregation of young families that instilled that vibrant, relevant faith in their children.IMG_1268c

During the service, which was (naturally!) planned by Harold and called “A Service of Witness to the Resurrection,” I enjoyed watching many of those no-longer-young parents of my church friends participate in the liturgy with similar passion. I also sat there thinking about the fact that I was one of the youngest people in the room—with the exception of Harold’s grandchildren. What was relevant and “cutting edge” in the 1970s is not so today—and yet so much of the liturgy that Harold brought into the life of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church was deeply rooted in the early history of the church. It was not just reform; it was rediscovery.

At the service, I also sat two rows behind a woman who was very influential for me—although I don’t believe I have ever told her this (and therefore I shall do so now…!). She led a liturgical dance group at St. Andrew when I was young. For some complicated reasons I did not participate, except occasionally as part of the youth group, but I longed to do so. Many years later, when re-introduced to the concept of movement prayer during my formation as a spiritual director, I wholeheartedly embraced it, then found and joined a liturgical dance group in the Boston area. The monthly Embodied Prayer sessions which I now lead (ironically, at the local Presbyterian church!) are rooted in my belief that all of us are invited to pray with our bodies—something I first learned so many years ago at St. Andrew.

In such ways is the church continually renewed and reformed, remaining relevant in the face of changing times. I imagine that, when I was a child, the older generations at St. Andrew were appalled at those bright and flowery banners, just as many of those celebrating Harold Daniels’ life are likely uncomfortable with the use of slide shows and praise bands in liturgy today.

And yet…we must remain relevant if the church is to have any hope of flourishing in the future. Harold Daniels knew this, and I imagine that it’s part of what drove him to return to the “original sources” of his Reformed tradition (note that the quote on the “flower power” type banner is from St. Augustine!), seeking liturgical elements that would engage the members of his youthful congregation. And the liturgical dancer at St. Andrew created indelible memories in my young mind of how worship could include the body, as well as mind and voice. Over the years, my prayer has taken bodily form in many ways, and that passion has driven me to share it with others.

With all these memories and realizations flowing through me, it was a lovely irony that yesterday ended with a “Skype date” with one of my spiritual director colleagues, who is a bit older than me and has been asked if she would be willing to do spiritual guidance via Skype, as I do. She’s been a bit nervous about how this new technology works, and so we agreed to have a session together, so she could experience the process, and I could share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from doing this for the past year. Here we are, both firmly entrenched in a ministry that some people say “has to” be done in person, recognizing that we can only remain relevant if we are open to the Spirit’s guidance in embracing new possibilities—and, as we discussed, much spiritual guidance 1000 years ago took place via letter! By seeking renewal in a blend of deeply rooted tradition and the embrace of new technology, I believe we are honoring the Holy Spirit’s call to remain relevant in our ministry today.

Where do you see your faith community being relevant and engaging today? In what ways is it anachronistic? What does this awareness invoke, or invite, in you, in terms of a response?

Is there someone who has deeply impacted your life, who might appreciate some form of recognition and appreciation of that influence on your life or ministry?

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Spring Growth

One of the things we did while our son and his family were visiting a few weeks ago was work on the garden. Our son and I added compost to the soil and pounded support posts into the rock-hard clay (he actually did the work; I just held the posts upright!), and our grandson helped me plant lots of little red onion starts. IMG_1235The onions have since started coming up, and I’ve been sending periodic pictures of their progress to Massachusetts, where at least the snow has disappeared, even if the wind-chill temperature is still below freezing as I type!

As a child, I hated spring. The strong winds and resultant dust storms made it the most unpleasant season, especially waiting outdoors for the school bus. My strongest memories of spring were sand in my hair and eyes, and the nasty crunching sound that comes when the sand gets in between your teeth…. No fun.

It was like a revelation, then, to move to New England as a young adult and watch crocuses peek through the snow in people’s yards and daffodils spring into existence along the banks of the Charles River. Fruit trees blossomed in profusion and the earth smelled of rich fecundity. I loved it!

Now I’m back in New Mexico, and the spring winds have begun. I have a different perspective now. The dry, windy weather raises the fire danger; that matters much more to me than a bit of sand in my hair (and, I admit, I can now choose when to be outside!). Now I am drawn to the evidence of new growth that comes with spring…both the new growth in the native perennial plants in my front yard and the birth from seed of the tomato and cucumber starts in my guest room window. They remind me that we have both the opportunity to begin again, and to continue to grow, no matter how old and gnarled our perennial trunks might be.

What have you noticed this spring? Where are you experiencing the invitation to new growth?


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Easter Flowers

I have some pretty strong memories of Easter lilies. This vivid white symbol of resurrection was an integral part of Easter in the church where I grew up. When I was a teen, we kids were assigned the task of running into a nearby room during the Easter Vigil, just as the resurrection was being announced, and running back into the sanctuary with pots of lilies in our hands to place around the communion table as the lights came up and the choir sang. All these years later, I’m still getting teary-eyed writing this….

But some of those memories also have to do with lily pollen, which is pretty strong and causes allergic responses in many who sit in church pews—myself included. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember being thrilled when someone at that church showed me how you could pull out the pollen pods, just after the lily flower opened and before the pods turned themselves inside out to spread their magical, misery-causing scent.

This past week I’ve been watching the flowers that have appeared in my own yard. I’ve enjoyed the scent of round yellow Mahonia flowers, and celebrated the appearance of peach blossoms on the tree I planted last fall. I’ve also been pleased to see that a few brave tulips have survived to blossom, because the past two years they were eaten by deer long before anything had a chance to flower.

IMG_1203I believe that one reason the tulips have survived this year is that I chose not to cut back the tall, dead stems from last year’s globe mallow wildflowers, which have grown up amidst the bulbs in my flower bed. While many here treat globe mallows as weeds, I allowed them to commingle with my bulbs to give summer-long color to the flower bed. I figured that they had a place, and a role to play. I thought that place and role had to do with summer color—but when the tulips began to appear early this spring, and weren’t immediately eaten, I put two and two together and realized that the deer likely weren’t interested in trying to eat tender bulb shoots that were surrounded by tall, spiky sticks that must smell as unappetizing as the live plants do. In this way, the dead are protecting new life in my garden bed.

To me this is a wonderful symbol of Easter and resurrection. New life would not survive to flower in this corner of my garden without the “assistance” of death in the form of last summer’s flower stems. There cannot be resurrection without death. The two go hand in hand, in our own lives as well as the life of Jesus.

Where in your life has death actually helped to protect or foster new life?