Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering



I’m exhausted from the move, from days on end of doing everything from packing, carrying, and unpacking boxes to stopping and starting utilities, scheduling trash pickup, learning how to use a new microwave, etc., etc. I haven’t had a Sabbath day of rest in far too long. IMG_2087Part of it is an intense inward desire to get the boxes out of the house, and we’ve already taken a big stack of them to U-Haul, which has a box reuse program. But the fact remains that I haven’t made time to sit still in what feels like—and probably has been—weeks.

This has brought me a different perspective on Christmas. We seldom think about how exhausted Mary must have been in the days following the birth of Jesus. She and Joseph had traveled 75 miles along dry and dusty roads. Mary had experienced the stress of giving birth, without her mother or other family members around to help her, in a strange place…in a dirty stable!

Yet the beat goes on. Things keep happening. Joseph wouldn’t have wanted to linger too long in Bethlehem, because every day away was a day of income lost in his carpenter shop back home. At this point, I imagine he would already have stood in line to register the family of three in the Emperor’s census. Today Henry is doing something that is, in one sense, similar. Through baptism, he is enrolling our first great-grandson in an eternal census: that of the Children of God. A much more joyous occasion—and also another busy day in a long string of busy days. I don’t regret it, and I’m glad for the opportunity to be present for this baptism—but I also recognize within myself a deep need for rest.

I have found some moments to rest—on the airplane, for example. Perhaps Mary found moments to rest as she recovered from her labor, and began to learn how to live with a child at her breast. I hope that they were able to get a room in the inn as other folks finished their census duties and moved on.

You also might be needing some recovery time from a busy holiday season. Whether you traveled 75, or 750, or 7 miles, or stayed home and hosted 7 additional friends and family, you might also need some rest. In fact, you might be reading this while still surrounded by lots of family and friends.

So how might you find moments to recover from the exhaustion of the holidays? What would feed your soul, help you find a bit of rest, in the midst of this busy Christmas season?




Last week I talked about all the farewells I was making as I departed Silver City. This week I’m going to reflect on the hellos, the new connections, that we make whenever we move to a new place. It’s inevitable, of course. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We exist within a network, a web of community. Even if people think they can live completely independent lives, they really aren’t. Mail is delivered through the work of other people, and the roads on which we travel were paved (or graded) through the hard work of members of that web of community.

So…as I move into a new community, I am moving into a new part of the web. On one of our recent transitional trips to Tucson, Henry and I spent an evening with some of my aunts and uncles in Tubac, a town an hour south of Tucson that has a large tourist-oriented shopping and dining district. IMG_2068Tubac was celebrating “Luminaria Nights,” where the walls and pathways are lined with luminarias and the stores are open late.

Luminarias are a special part of my Christmas experience, as I grew up in a neighborhood in Albuquerque where, on Christmas Eve, luminarias were the only permitted outdoor illumination. None of those fancy Christmas lights…this was about an ancient Southwestern tradition, DSC_4174cwhere candles are placed (safely on a couple inches of sand) inside plain brown paper bags and used to light the way for Mary and Joseph, inviting them to stay for the night since there was no room in the Bethlehem inn.

Well…even as I grieve leaving my “home state” of New Mexico, I am being welcomed to the neighboring state of Arizona where, at least in some areas, the tradition of luminarias is still alive and flourishing. It was truly lovely to see those luminarias, to feel the connection between my old homeland and my new. To know that, truly, the web of community knows no boundaries; we are all one.

And it was into that one web of community that Jesus was born. In this season of Advent, we both await and remember that Jesus came to live among us, in this frail, beautiful, broken, stunning web of human connections.

How are you preparing to say hello, to welcome Jesus into your particular part of the web?


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I’ve said a lot of farewells this past week. It was my last time to participate in many of my Silver City activities: laughter yoga, Reiki share, after-school program, hiking date (with some beautiful views of the town)IMG_1998 and, today, church. There’s a real bittersweet nature to saying farewell, even if I might return to some of these for a visit. I will no longer be a “regular,” a part of the community. It’s a definite shift in consciousness, and belonging.

Moves from one city to another aren’t the only occasions for such shifts. The move from one job to another, or from work to retirement, can cause such a shift. The move from single to married status can cause a definite shift in activities, as can the birth of a child.

And that’s where I find myself connecting with Advent this week. Mary experienced a major shift in her life, from being a single young girl, betrothed but still living at home, to being a woman with child, living with Joseph. I can imagine that her tasks changed, and that she began to spend time with the older, married women instead of the young girls in her village. She would have experienced significant shifts in consciousness during this time, from youth to womanhood, from childhood to childbearing.

Her community was also changing its perception of her, from child to adult, and perhaps also to someone of questionable virtue, given that she was visibly going to give birth to a child long before the nine months since her wedding day.

I wonder what kinds of farewells Mary said, in her heart or out loud, to her childhood community, her family, her circle of belonging. I wonder what fears, and hopes, she carried with her into her new roles. Some of my roles will not change because of my move to Tucson; I’ll still be a freelance writer and editor, for instance. But I will need to forge new relationships with groups within the community, as I did in Silver City. I need to find new ways to belong, just as Mary did over two thousand years ago.

I also pray that I will have the strength of heart and faith to sing with confidence as I travel into the unknown. Like Mary, I’m going to be with family. Like Mary, I have seen the fingerprints of God in various stages of this moving process. I pray that I might create my own version of the Magnificat, singing along with Mary: “My soul glorifies my Creator, my spirit rejoices in God! For Henry and I have felt the hand of God’s favor in so many ways….”

Think for a moment about the most recent set of farewells you have experienced in your own life, or some transition taking place in your life in this season. What was the occasion for the change? What shifts of consciousness, and belonging, took place for you? Create your own Magnificat for that season or this one in which you await Christ’s coming.



Hurry Up and Wait

Coordinating a move is full of juxtapositions. It’s taking a couple of months to occur, but folks in the real estate business says this entire process is happening pretty fast and things are going smoothly. We need to be packing boxes, but there are things that we still need to use before the move so there are many things that we should wait to pack. I called the insurance company and set up insurance on the new house for the move-in date, but they won’t let me schedule stopping insurance on the old house until seven days or less before the changeover—and actually suggest that I contact them up to seven days after the move, in case something goes awry.

And that’s the kicker—we’re not inspecting the repairs on the new house until three days before closing. That doesn’t give us a lot of time if there are any things that aren’t fixed to our satisfaction. On the other hand, we want to give them time to do it right, and Thanksgiving occurred smack in the middle of it all.

So it’s “hurry up and wait.” We think we have plenty of boxes, but we won’t really know until we’re packing up the kitchen and bathroom the day before the movers come. I can pack some portions of my office, but others need to remain available to me until I’m finished working in this location. IMG_2066I can dig up the dead tomato plants in the garden, but won’t harvest any iris until the last minute because I want them to remain as fresh as possible before planting them in their new home. Today I can pack up the art in our meeting room, the books I kept out for reference during the prayer class I hosted, and most of the gardening tools. But other things must wait.

Advent is also about “hurry up and wait.” All around us, advertisers admonish us to hurry up and purchase Christmas gifts while they’re on sale, while in church we are admonished to slow down and wait, keeping watch for the coming of Christ. The juxtaposition can cause us spiritual whiplash if we’re not centered and grounded in God’s ever-present love. Jesus may be coming, but Christ is already with us, each and every day. So take some time to wait, but be aware—at the same time—that the present moment is a gift that’s already given.

What can you do today? What needs to wait?