Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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All Out Day

One of our favorite close-to-home places for hiking is at Bear Mountain Lodge. It’s a former Nature Conservancy site that has some great hiking trails. Most of the time when we drive up to the gate, it’s wide open and we drive right in. Sometimes, however, there’s a chain strung across the road with an attached metal sign that says the horses have been let out to graze, so please put the chain back so the horses can’t get loose.

This past week when we went to hike, the gate was closed—the first time I’ve realized that there was even a functioning gate! When we got closer, we could see a sign on the gate that said the cows had been let out to graze. As we drove up to the parking area, we could see three cows and a calf—which would explain why the chain was not sufficient to keep all the livestock in.

IMG_0653And we did indeed hang out with the livestock. Even though we’ve encountered the chain a number of times, we hadn’t seen the horses “out and about” until this hike, either. As my hiking buddy said, it’s “all out day!” We saw the Bear Mountain Lodge owner out walking his dogs, the horses and cows were out grazing, and we came across another dung beetle, out diligently harvesting dung from the pathway.

The weather was also lovely; warm, but not too hot, reminding me that autumn is, at least for most of the US, a great time of year for getting outdoors. So I ask: when is the last time you got out? You read about my hikes; do you take any of your own? What would it be like to declare “all out day” at your house and let everyone—humans and animals—out for a chance to romp freely in some portion of God’s beautiful creation?


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My hiking buddy and I came upon this tree during a recent hike, and it caught my attention because of the fact that the tree’s roots had split the rIMG_0645ocks beneath them. So often we believe that those things which surround us—our circumstances, our experiences, our resources—are impervious to our presence. Yet nothing is further from the truth.

I still remember the profound feeling of awe that filled me when, as a teen, I truly understood that the Grand Canyon in Arizona had been carved literally over a mile deep by the simple, but relentless, action of water. Over time, yes. Over centuries, in fact. Over those centuries, the Colorado River carved such a deep crevasse through the stunningly colored rocks of the Colorado Plateau that the result is considered one of the major wonders of the natural world, and receives over four million visitors per year.

Perseverance is the key to many such treasures, both natural and human-made. The work that we have to offer the world comes to fruition not because of our desire, but because of our perseverance. It is because we keep doing what we feel called to do, no matter the strength of the obstacles that appear to be blocking our way, that we can crack rocks and wear away mountains.

What is the God-given (or God-driven) desire at this time in your life? How are you called to persevere in the face of obstacles? Where have you seen rocks crack or crumble along the journey?

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Cooking Time

IMG_1843Friday was “try out the new slow cooker” day at our house. I had ruined our prior slow cooker by over-filling it last spring; when the stew overflowed, it seeped into the space between the heating element and the base of the cooker, causing smoke and the danger of fire. I purchased a new slow cooker, but hadn’t yet used it, and since the weather is beginning to cool down a bit, I thought it was time.

The recipe I chose for this inaugural meal was pork chile verde. I love it, but had not tried to make it from scratch in years. Now I remember why; between all the necessary preparatory steps, it took me over two hours to get everything into the “time saving” slow cooker. Tomatillos had to be cleaned, sliced, and roasted. Green chiles had to be roasted, skinned, seeded, and chopped. Other vegetables had to be cleaned and chopped, and everything pureed. The pork had to be chopped, seared in small batches, and the pan deglazed afterwards. Once everything was finally in the cooker and the kitchen cleaned, it was past time for lunch! It’s a good thing this cooker has a high setting; otherwise we would have eaten dinner at 8 pm!

As I was cleaning up afterward and marveling at the time this process had taken, I found my mind wandering back to the first time I consciously remember learning about food that could take an entire day to prepare. I was teaching English in Seoul, South Korea at the time, and I remember being told by one of my students that a certain dish—I honestly don’t remember what it was at this point—would take her mother an entire day to prepare. I also remember watching Korean women make kimchi outside the apartment building where I lived. It was a full-day process, between cleaning the cabbages and pre-salting them, mixing up the multi-ingredient chile paste, smearing that paste between each and every leaf of each and every cabbage, then piling them into large earthenware jars that had been dug deep into the earth of the back yard.

I don’t remember my mother spending an entire day in the kitchen—but I usually was away at school and didn’t really notice. Mom did regularly make homemade bread that, with rising time, took most of the day to complete. I do remember coming home from school and being greeted with hot-from-the-oven whole-wheat bread, spread with melted butter. Ahhh, precious memories!

I find myself contrasting these time-consuming cooking memories with the standard in my household—and many others, I suspect—these days. I rely on help from packaged foods, whether it be frozen salmon burgers from Costco or chicken breasts that I buy already boned and skinned. I also tend toward vegetables that can be chopped and cooked quickly, or a salad with components that are relatively easy to put together. Because I work during the day, I tend to allocate between 30-60 minutes for dinner preparation; taking more time feels impractical with my other responsibilities.

I’m also aware today that I take those packaged foods for granted. I do not usually think about the person who formed the burger or skinned the chicken—or the possibility that machines are now involved in both of those processes. My relationship with food takes a lot for granted—at least until a day like last Friday, when I take the time to roast tomatillos, remove skin and seeds from local chiles (a few of which were from my own garden, along with the onions and garlic), and give thanks to God for the abundance of food in my life.

Do you take food for granted? Do you rely on help from packaged foods? Do you remember to give thanks for those whose work makes your own cooking process easier?

Do you have memories of meals that have taken hours to prepare? Have you done them yourself? Thanksgiving is a possible example; cooking a whole turkey certainly isn’t a 30-60-minute task. Is there value for you in the taking of time to make things from scratch?


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Expansive Faith

IMG_1807It’s been an intense week for me. I attended a conference called “The Francis Factor,” which discussed the impact on our world of both St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis, who took his papal name in honor of the saint. I spent hours listening to three wise teachers of the modern age: Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (where I used to work), Franciscan Sr. Ilia Delio, a professor of science and religion and author of numerous books, and The Simple Way founder Shane Claiborne who, like St. Francis, is attempting to live as Jesus did, with intention toward taking Jesus’ teachings to heart, not just in word, but also in deed.

One of the threads weaving through the conference (and there were many!) was of our universal connectedness with all of the cosmos. St. Francis’ connection with creation is often romanticized (what Richard Rohr calls Bird Bath Franciscanism), but St. Francis recognized what modern quantum physics and the reality of climate change are now bringing home to us in powerful ways: we cannot live as if we are independent beings.

Some other snippets that I gleaned from the conference include:

  • We are relational interbeings, overlapping waves like the ocean
  • The Gospel swims in an ocean of grace
  • God put skin on love in the form of Jesus
  • Evangelism is fascinating people with love
  • Our interdependence muscles are atrophied
  • Technology (the web, mobile devices) can actually help to connect us, and remind us of our integral interdependence
  • If we surround ourselves with people who are further on the journey we wish to take, they will inspire and draw us further on the road

Each of these, and many more, could become the focus for many days of prayer. So often, I’ve found myself attending a conference, taking notes, then filing them away and forgetting. This time I intend to keep some of these at the forefront of my heart. I also bought some books to read, to explore these ideas in more depth.

On a different, but very related, note, I also learned this past week of the death of one of my former spiritual directors, the Rev. Eldridge Pendleton, SSJE. Like St. Francis, he paid attention to all of creation, including the least, the last, and the lost, and found grace and beauty everywhere. While I mourn his passing, and it’s been many years since I have seen him in person, I recognize our interdependence and know that he helped to shaped me as a spiritual director and a child of God, even as I once wove him a stole for his ordination. That mutual giving and receiving is a powerful image of our intertwined universe, in which each of us plays a vital part.

This week, I invite you to choose one of the snippets or images in this blog, take it to prayer each day, and see where it takes you. Feel free to share snippets of your own journey here.