Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Grace in Time of Need

On Monday of this week, I received two gifts of grace before 10 am.

The first was from my hiking buddy. I was gung-ho when we started out on the trail, so happy to be out in the woods, away from the boxes and moving details, striding along the carpet of pine needles under my feet. I felt I could walk for hours—and really wanted to. So, at the first intersection, and the second, I opted for the longer route.

IMG_2016cHowever, the longer route was also more difficult, and by the time we ascended a fairly large hill to the third intersection, I knew that I would have to back off on my idea of a grand tour of Little Walnut. I have been over-extending myself in a handful of ways, and I could feel myself tiring, and even a bit of lightheadedness setting in.

Fortunately, my hiking buddy was very understanding. After a break, some water, and a bit of fruit-leather snack, we chose to return the way that we had come. It was still a beautiful day, out amongst the trees, and we actually ended up hiking about the same distance as we have been the past few weeks. But I had to recognize that I was acting like the hare instead of the tortoise and, especially in this season of moving, I have to think in terms of the long haul.

That thinking in terms of the long haul had been the reason for requesting the other grace: a week’s extension on the book I’m currently editing. Balancing work, move, and the holidays was proving more than I could reasonably handle and keep myself whole and healthy. Yes, I could have pushed myself and done it all, but I realized that perhaps I didn’t need to. The “old me,” the perfectionist, would have pushed through and “made it all happen,” and probably ended up sick as a result.

But I am learning. I’ve already gotten sick once during this move season, and I really would rather not do it again. I was able to honestly say to my client that I would likely be better able to focus if I could have another week, and my client was happy to oblige. In fact, my client mentioned a concern about when there would be time to review my work during the busy holiday season anyway, so it appears that my worries were ungrounded: this grace will benefit both of us.

Today begins the season of Advent, and the Christian calendar’s new church year. Today we enter a season of waiting, for the grace that is God’s love incarnate, coming into the world. But we must wait for it; we cannot make it happen. We cannot schedule Jesus’ appearance among us—despite the evidence of Christmas decorations all around us. This is a season of waiting for something that we cannot control. God’s gifts to us are all grace.

When is the last time that you recognized the need for grace in your own life? Were you able to ask for it? What happened as a result of your asking—or not asking?

When have you been able to extend grace—about something large or small—to another? I invite you to keep an eye out for opportunities to give and receive grace in this hectic holiday season.


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IMG_0666One of the wonderful things about our hikes is the mysteries that we encounter. This past week we were hiking on national forest land and encountered these two small stone buildings. They were clearly well-made and had stood the test of time, but it wasn’t at all clear why they had been constructed in this out-of-the-way location. Here they were, in the middle of the forest, with their open doorways revealing nothing inside except debris and, in one case, evidence of fire.IMG_0668

A closer look revealed even more mysteries. Both buildings had large, curved metal pipes built into the walls, most likely for drainage. This would have made more sense if the top had been open, but both roofs were well-constructed from rebar-reinforced concrete. The doorways were sheathed in metal, but the doors themselves were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they have been scavenged or stolen once the buildings were no longer in use.

Initially I thought they might be hiking waystations of some sort, but they were too close together, and had no windows. My hiking buddy suggested that they might be ice houses, and that would certainly explain the drain pipes—although where people would have found enough ice in the desert to store here remains a mystery.

IMG_0623Here is another mystery that we discovered a few months ago on another hike. It is clearly some animal’s backbone, but for us amateurs, there’s no way to know what type of animal it comes from. We have no idea when this animal lived and for how long, whether it survived to a ripe old age or was cut down in its prime, what it ate, and loved, and feared, and dreamed.

Every act of ours can be a mystery to others. I’m sure that those who built these buildings in the forest had very good reasons for doing so, but I will likely never know what they are. Every choice that I make could be a mystery to someone else, whose life experience and current needs could be very different from my own.

Every one of us is a mystery to others. Since we are all mysteries to each other, would it not be wise to treat each other as gifts? What if we viewed every mysterious act taken by another as a curiosity rather than a threat, a reason for compassion rather than ridicule? In this season of Thanksgiving, when the world is also focused on fear and violence, I think that we could all benefit from reflecting on the ultimate mystery that each of us is to everyone else.

We are all God’s children. We are all made for love. We can take steps to protect ourselves, but we also need to love one another, and honor the mystery. How might you do that today?


Living in the Autumn Moment

This past week I helped out with the after-school program at church. It was a blessing to walk away from editing, move details, and dealing with a squirrel that’s found a way into my veggie cage, and just spend time with children. Since I’m not in charge of the program, I’m able to just live in each moment, moving from one activity to the next, alongside the children, sometimes being disciplinarian, but most of the time being able to relax and just hang out with them.

Part of every after-school program is time on the playground. Often I’ll join the kickball game, but this week I was content to sit on the swings, alongside a couple of the girls, enjoying a stunningly beautiful fall day. Nearby trees were clothed in yellows, oranges, reds, and purples, with a clear blue backdrop of sky behind them.

IMG_1995At some point I found myself looking at the chains on the swings and the leaves on the ground and wondering if I might weave them together. This autumn art was the result. IMG_1997cThe girls joined me for a few moments, weaving leaf stems into the chains, swinging on the swing, then returned to their own imaginary games.

Another girl came along and wouldn’t swing until she had ripped out every leaf from the chains. I watched, and chose not to say anything, but I was sad that she didn’t see the beauty, the fun, or the enjoyment in taking a different view of something.

Fortunately, even as she was ripping out the leaves, I was also able to remain grateful for the chance to live in that autumn moment. I knew that, soon enough, I would be returning to work, piles of boxes, and the need to find a creative solution to my squirrel invasion.

Every one of us has a choice, in every moment. We can take a good look at what’s around us, and we can embrace the opportunity to create something new, or we can destroy what others have made and claim the “standard” view as the best—or only—option.

When is the last time you’ve played on a playground?

When have you taken a few simple things and combined them in unexpected ways?

Do you find yourself inclined to believe that there is only one option, or one way of doing things? Do you force that view on others?


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Prioritizing Prayer in the Midst of Life

Back in July, a member of my first spiritual directors’ peer supervision group, who is now Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, where I did my spiritual director training, invited me to consider leading an in-person group in conjunction with their online School of Contemplative Prayer class this fall. Prayer and some “coincidences” led me to believe that I should accept this invitation, and so I began spreading the word.

Then, suddenly, shortly before the course was to begin, our move to Tucson moved onto the fast track. I struggled with whether I should, perhaps, cancel my involvement and invite those who were interested to just participate in the online portion of the course. However, prayer revealed the truth that, in this season of busyness and major change in my life, I needed this practice of prayer more than ever. The bald truth is that, with responsibility for leading a group, I would be much more faithful to the course, and the practice of prayer.

IMG_1942And so it has begun. So far, I am proving that adage that we preach what we most need to hear. Shalem says that the most important element of the course is the time set aside every day for prayer. I do not have a perfect attendance record in daily prayer, nor have I made the time to read and reflect upon many of the journal messages from our various online classmates. I have managed to listen to all the portions of the online course, however, and have made more time for prayer than I likely would have without the course there to remind me.

I’ve also had to accept, and learn to appreciate, the irony that the best scheduled time for our weekly in-person meeting was late each Friday afternoon. This has meant, in part, that we weren’t able to get an early start to Tucson this weekend. As I thought about it, I realized that putting God first is not just something we say; it’s something we need to do. We need to make time for prayer in our lives, regardless of what’s happening in our lives or the juggling to our schedules that might result.

We need to make time for God because that relationship grounds and centers us as we approach all the other relationships and events in our lives. Making time for God—perhaps especially when that seems to “intrude” upon the rest of our day—is a potent reminder that this spiritual relationship needs to be a high priority for everyone, every day.

Where is God on your priority list? What might you need to juggle in order to make time for daily prayer?



Trusting—One Day at a Time

After the upbeat tone of my blog last week, I sit writing this one in a rather different place. For one thing, all that’s happening in my life has led to my over-extending myself and I’ve caught a bug of some sort. This has meant I’ve had to step back from some obligations in order to rest because this weekend we are once again in Tucson, house-hunting.

House-hunting, however, has not been as straightforward as house-selling. We put in an offer after our first visit to Tucson, and it was rejected because it was contingent upon the sale of our house here. This is not that unusual—sellers prefer a transaction that’s not dependent on another one—but our reaction was still, naturally, disappointment. Then, last week, two of the houses we were most interested in viewing this weekend were gobbled up before we could even get to Tucson to take a look.

I told a friend of mine about what happened, and her response was, “Remember God’s fingerprints are already all over this process.” My response to her was, “Yes, God is truly all over this, which is part of what’s driving me nuts…why can’t I trust!?!?!? Sigh…. Maybe because I’m not feeling well….”

And that is a deep truth that bears remembering. Even when we know, in our heart of hearts, that in the big picture, all will be well, it can be difficult to live through the day-to-day process that gets us there. Whether it’s collecting boxes and beginning to pack up our belongings, IMG_1893spending hours assessing pictures and data for dozens of houses online, or trying to keep up with the flow of work in the midst of it all, adding a major change to an already-full life is not an easy task.

And so I’m trusting, sometimes more successfully than others. A year from now, I imagine being able to look back and see God’s fingerprints more clearly. Fortunately, in the meantime, I’ve got friends to hold me in prayer, to shine light on the bigger picture when I’m unable to take that wider view. I’ve done it for others, and I give thanks to God for those who are doing it for me now.

When have you been able to shine that light for others who are struggling? When have you been the recipient of the support of friends and loved ones during difficult seasons? Take a moment to give thanks to God for both the giving, and the receiving.