Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


The Only Constant is Change

Henry and I have moved a lot over the years. In fact, in the 21 years we’ve been married, we’ve lived in nine different locations, ranging from a one-bedroom seminary apartment to a spacious adobe house. We’ve discovered that there are both advantages to moving often (you regularly get to purge your belongings) and disadvantages (it seems like every time I get a garden established, we move!). We don’t always plan to move so frequently, but it just seems to be the pattern of our life together.

When we moved into our current house, we both really felt that we were here to stay. In fact, Henry joked about only leaving here “in a box.” We love the rural setting, the birds and bees and deer and rabbits—even when they mess with the garden. We love hearing the sound of coyotes and owls at dusk, and the number of stars we can see on a clear night. DSC_5361We’ve also invested a lot of time, energy, money and love into this home, including this beautiful rock garden which is our back yard.

But I’ve learned to “never say never.” As someone first said decades ago, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Due to Henry’s health issues, we’re moving again. Limitations in his lung capacity mean that it’s time to live at a lower elevation. After some research and discussion, as well as prayer, we’re looking at somewhere in the Tucson area—just three hours from here—as our target destination. It takes us from 6000 feet to just over 2000, and he could feel the difference when we recently traveled there to purchase his first set of hearing aids. Sea level might be even better, but humidity, cold, and allergens are other factors that affect lungs and so Tucson seems to be a good compromise.

Naturally I’ve experienced a range of emotions over the weeks as this change has slowly become a reality in our lives. I’ve also realized that shifts in my life—whether they be related to home, work, or vocation—seem to occur in three-year cycles. I became a freelancer and we moved to this home in 2012, so it seems I’m due for another round of change.

It’s also important to notice that so many of those shifts have occurred as we followed the invitation of the Spirit. In 2003, Henry took an early retirement buyout from his job and went to seminary. In 2006, we moved to New Mexico in his pursuit of ordination. Our move in 2012 was also saying “yes” to an invitation to ministry here. Through each move, we’ve trusted that God is inviting us along a path that we don’t always see clearly. Looking back, I can see how richly we’ve been blessed, every step of the way. It’s not always been easy, but it’s been blessed.

And so, when I can rest in that trust, I am at peace with this move—even as the idea of putting all our belongings in boxes yet again feels quite daunting. I can even look forward to the possibilities ahead of us: new friends, new opportunities, a new house to make “home”—for however long we are blessed to live there.

(For those who are wondering about the practicalities, we have a mid-December close date on our house here—which went under contract before it even got on the market—and we are now looking for a house in Tucson.)

When have you trusted the Spirit’s invitation and stepped forward in faith? What happened? Are there any such invitations—large or small—being offered to you right now?


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Broadening Perspective

Lately, my hiking buddy and I have fallen into the habit of choosing one of the same three or four hikes each time we meet. Partly it’s an issue of time; these trails are relatively close to home and I especially have been very busy with work. Partly it’s an issue of weather; despite being well into October, the temperature is still getting up into the 80s, and even in the morning we want to choose more shaded hiking options. Partly it might be an issue of familiarity; it’s easy to choose a hike when you have some sense of where it will take you.

IMG_0664This past week we chose a hike that took us to the top of Sunrise Ridge, where we could look down upon Bear Mountain Lodge and the hills beyond it. After hiking up the trail through the trees, seeing only a few feet further along the path, it was nice to be able to see for some distance. While we couldn’t see the car, we could see the tree under which it was parked. There’s some sense of safety and security in being able to see your goal, even if you can’t always see every step along the path that leads you there.

It’s also nice to have the chance to sit in stillness for a while and enjoy the broader perspective. So often we move through our days with our goals in mind and lose sight of the precious nature of the present moments through which we move with such driven focus. Taking time to notice the first few leaves beginning to turn (most likely because of the shortening days, since the weather is still so warm) helps me remember to notice, and even embrace, the changing seasons. Without taking time to be still and notice, I might have missed the subtle shift in seasons that has begun while I felt too busy to pay attention.

Today I am beginning a contemplative prayer class with four folks here in Silver City. It’s being offered by the Shalem Institute, which helped to hone my gifts for spiritual guidance almost twenty years ago. I’m looking forward to the chance both to broaden my own prayer perspectives through this class and to share the experience more deeply as our little group gathers each week to pray and ponder together the work of the Spirit in our lives.

When is the last time that you gave yourself the gift of spiritual enrichment, whether it was a hike with a view or an educational or creative opportunity? If you haven’t done so recently, consider keeping an eye out for the Spirit’s invitation to broaden your perspective in some way.

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Nourishing My Writer’s Life

Last weekend, Silver City hosted its second biannual Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Three days were filled with activities ranging from poetry readings and workshops on writing song lyrics to talks on the state of the publishing industry and the art of book design.

I attended a workshop with Mary Sojourner entitled “Scalpel and Thread: The Art of Fine-Tuning Your Writing” in which we were invited to reconnect with a safe and sacred space, use a sentence as catalyst for a ten-minute free-writing session, then take another five minutes to edit out those parts that a reader would skip over.

Following this exercise, a few of us were invited to share our opening paragraph. I read mine, and received a spontaneous kudo from the participant next to me, as well as an indirect affirmation of my writing skills when another participant felt compelled to say that her work was not as good as mine. Sojourner, however, suggested that I shorten my sentences, speaking of cadence and rhythm, along with the need to keep the reader’s attention.

A part of me resisted her feedback, but another part recalled those seasons when poetry flowed in my life and I wondered about the possibility of turning those images into a poem. Over the past week, I’ve sat with this initial paragraph, played with it, and here are the results.

The initial paragraph as I read it in the workshop:

I kneel and pine needles poke through my jeans. Brown and dry, their faded musk drifts up to my nose as I slide onto my left hip and settle on the ground. My gaze slides up the trunk of a nearby Ponderosa, jigsaw-puzzle bark weaving past my sight. Needles join a million gentle dances on the breeze. I hear that precious sound, somewhere between waves and willow sighs, as wind weaves melody through the branches above me.

One poem:

Brown, dry, and sharp
Faded pine needles
As I kneel
Slide onto hip
Onto earth.

Ponderosa towers above
Jigsaw-puzzle bark
A roadway for my eyes
Traveling toward heaven
Detoured by pine needles
dancing in the breeze
sighing as wind slips through them.


And some haikus:

Kneeling under pines
Eyes travel jigsaw-bark path
Upward to the clouds

Eyes travel upward
Along puzzle-bark highway
Touch needle-pierced sky

Crouching in forest
Pine needles tickle heaven
Dead ones tickle knees

Which of these speaks best to you?

When is the last time that you’ve been encouraged to do something differently? Did you resist the invitation, or follow through? What were the results? Did the process have an impact on your life or your perspective?


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Bird Brain

This past week my work days have frequently been accompanied by the periodic sound of a hard tapping on our kitchen window. The first time I heard it, I thought someone was knocking at the front door, but nobody was there.

DSC_5379cIt turns out that we’ve got an adolescent roadrunner who thinks that its reflection in our kitchen window is a competitor of some sort. This bird repeatedly attacks his or her reflection, and keeps doing so, regardless of what I think would be some pretty obvious clues that there’s no other bird there: no sounds from the other bird, a perfect symmetry of beak hitting beak every single time, and the fact that the window doesn’t feel soft like feathers. It would seem that this roadrunner’s bird brain is not either sufficiently mature enough or capable of making these types of distinctions, and so it keeps attacking the window, day after day.

Upon reflection, I found myself thinking about how we, as humans, can end up doing something similar, especially when our more primitive animal brain kicks in. Whether it’s fight or flight, something disengages our more mature cerebral capacities and we will keep on doing things that don’t seem wise from others’ perspectives. Regardless of the evidence, sometimes right in front of our eyes, we can keep on attacking, or running, or hiding.

DSC_5475The only way I’ve found to stop the roadrunner is to walk up to the window, close enough that it sees me through the glass and runs away. It’s the same with us: we tend to need large, dramatic, outside intervention to knock us out of that fight-or-flight syndrome. It’s another good reason to live in community: we can gently nudge each other out of our bird-brain reactions to things that aren’t what they seem.

When have you responded to something with a fight-or-flight reaction? What did it take to get you out of that bird brain? When have you been able to help others escape their own limited perspectives and responses?