Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Old Stomping Grounds and New Perspectives

This past week I returned to Silver City for a couple of days. In addition to meeting with some people for spiritual direction, I was able to get into the mountains with my hiking buddy—which felt very much like coming home. I’ve always loved the mountains, and the pine trees which cover so many hillsides in New Mexico.

IMG_0684As we walked along a familiar path, I found myself thinking about the phrase, “old stomping grounds.” It refers to a place where someone frequently spends time, and that certainly applied to my life in Silver City. The mountains around town became a familiar and sacred space where I walked, stomped, prayed, pondered, and gave thanks for my community and for the beauty of the natural world around me.

At a further point along the path, we passed through a grove of tall Ponderosa pine trees. That area felt like an outdoor chapel to me, in part because it reminds me of a similar grove of pine trees at Maudslay State Park in Massachusetts. That was another of my “old stomping grounds”—a holy place for me when I lived in the Boston area. The connection between those sacred-for-me places led me to ask for a pause in our hike, to which my buddy readily agreed.

IMG_0694And then she went a step further. Looking down at the carpet of pine needles beneath the trees, she suggested we might want to lie down on them for a bit—and it was my turn to readily agree. As I lay there, facing upward, recalling other times when I’ve looked up the trunks of trees toward the sky, I found myself thinking about new perspectives.

The mountains around Silver City have joined Maudslay State Park as “old stomping grounds” rather than places I will frequently spend time in the future. I am now a visitor to, not a resident of, the area. I do not yet have “new stomping grounds” in the Tucson area, unless you count the immediate neighborhood around our house. That is not (yet?) a holy place for me—although it is becoming a more familiar one. Places become holy for us because of the quality of the time we spend there, the experiences we have, and the way we think about them when we are not there, as well as when we are.

I continue to be living in a period of transition. New perspectives, new experiences…but not yet any new stomping grounds. It is a tough place to be in, sometimes, because of that lack of familiarity, peace, and comfort. But it is also a period of opportunity, because I do not yet take things for granted, or make assumptions about my life in this new home.

What are some of your “old stomping grounds”? What have they meant to you in the past, and what do they mean to you now? Are any of them “holy”?

What new perspectives are you experiencing because of changes in circumstance at this time in your life?



Putting God’s Work First

Last week I talked about a major spiritual shift that is occurring in my life. After many months of feeling that my ministry was lying fallow and ideas were scarce (during which time I survived a major move and completed lots of editing work, so it wasn’t as if I was bored!), spring has arrived in my spiritual life and new ideas are sprouting.

IMG_1449 cropBut moving into this season of inspiration doesn’t mean that my “work” is over. Just as with a garden, I must tend these inspirations, nurture them, so that they thrive, grow, manifest and bear fruit. One of the ways I am doing that is with my Lenten commitment to write poetry six days a week (since Sundays are not part of Lent, I’m giving myself that day of rest each week). Giving time and space to inspiration in my life is key to nurturing what is coming forth—especially since my Lenten weeks will also be busy, with lots of editing work, a week-long family visit, and some long-awaited vacation time.

Another inspiration that came to me on Ash Wednesday morning was the return to an old habit of putting spiritual work first in my daily routine. During the fallow months (Is this an excuse? Perhaps….), I would arrive at my computer in the morning and dive right into my editing work for the day. I’d take a break for contemplative prayer later in the day (a chance to sit in the sun and give my body a break), but otherwise, to keep up with demand (I told myself), I would work straight through until dinner time (except for meetings and errands and such).

But I know from experience that the most fruitful time of day for me is morning. It is when I do my best work—and while giving that best time to my clients is good for my perfectionistic tendencies (and editors must, by nature, be detail-oriented perfectionists!), it’s not necessarily good for my spiritual life. So a part of my commitment for Lent (and beyond, I hope) is to put God’s work first each day, so that I am taking best possible advantage of this season of inspiration.

Another way that I am putting God first is by inviting some of you along in this season of inspiration. One of the things I’ve learned in my work with SCORE is the importance of gathering a small group of “customers” who become, in essence, beta-testers for early versions of my product. As readers of my blog, you are already my “customers.” If any of you would be interested in being part of a group that receives, participates in, and honestly responds to, early versions of the online retreat work I mentioned last week, please let me know. I expect it will be a few months before anything reaches that stage, but part of asking others to accompany me on this journey is to create a structure for accountability, to keep me moving forward with what, at moments, feels like a rather daunting task!

And for those who do not feel called to be beta-testers, you are welcome to pray that this work will be fruitful, giving glory to God and grace to everyone who will be fed by it. Thank you.

When in your own lives have you recognized a need to put God first? How did you do that? What were the spiritual fruits of that season?


A Season of Inspiration

I woke on Ash Wednesday morning with my head full of inspirations.

This was a great thing, on many levels. First, it was 6:30 am, which meant I’d slept the night through. Too often recently, I’ve woken at 2:30 am, my head filled with a long list of things that need doing or events from the prior day that need processing. Then I’ve been unable to get back to sleep for another three hours.

Finding my head full of inspiration was also a good thing because, for months now, my creative spirit has been…well, a number of words come to mind: overwhelmed (by the move), outnumbered (by the pace of editing work), squashed (by my emotions surrounding the move), sidelined (by the freight train of the move)…I think you get the idea. I’ve taken this issue to prayer many times over these months, and the message I kept getting was “Wait. Now is not the time.”

I’ve talked before about the “feast or famine” nature of the freelancer’s work life. On Ash Wednesday morning, I realized that this is another way to view the nature of our life with God as well. There are seasons of abundance, when evidence of the Spirit’s active presence in our lives flows thick and fast and we can sometimes teeter on the edge of feeling overwhelmed. And there are also seasons of scarcity, when it seems that nothing is happening.

IMG_0790The key is to realize that, like with winter in the northern part of the US, things are happening, but they mostly occur out of sight, underneath a blanket of some kind of snow—literal or metaphorical. It doesn’t mean that life doesn’t continue; instead, it’s recognizing that the focus is on those “unseen” parts: the roots, not the fruits. And so, to the best of my ability, I have waited and trusted. It has not been an easy road sometimes, but the pace of moving and work has prevented me from having much time to fret about it—except at 2:30 am!

Then, on Tuesday, the first evidence of a new season of abundance suddenly burst upon the scene—although I didn’t recognize it as an appetizer of the “feast” until the next morning. I was on my way to meet with my SCORE mentor. The Service Corps Of Retired Executives is exactly what it sounds like: retired executives giving free assistance to small business owners—including me. My uncle is a former volunteer for SCORE and I got in touch with them when I moved to Tucson, initially seeking assistance in making all the right moves for my freelancing business.

But Spirit is taking full advantage of this relationship in ways I had not expected. I was filling in a LEAN Startup worksheet for Communication Clarified and realized that I wanted to do another worksheet specifically on an idea that has been incubating—mostly in those unseen roots of my life—since December of 2014. That was when I offered a weekend Advent retreat in Silver City that a number of people could not attend because of their busy “Christmas season” schedules (although, of course, Advent had barely started!). The idea was to offer my retreat online. At that point, I thought I would offer it in December of 2015, but every time I tried to move forward with that plan, it wouldn’t work, for one reason or another. Once it became clear that we were moving in December, I understood why it was not the right time, but it was still difficult to watch retreats appear online and not see my own offering alongside them.

So I grieved, and packed, and focused on my “job” for that Advent season: our move. And now, what has been gestating “unseen” in my soul is beginning to make itself known. The online retreat worksheet literally flowed out of my fingers onto the page, including a beautiful “high-level concept” that explains what I offer in one succinct phrase. (No, sorry, I’m not going to reveal it now, but I will when the time is right!) Then, at 6:30 on Ash Wednesday morning, this blog idea came to me, along with poetry ideas, a theme (and specific ideas) for my first online retreat offering, and a revised version of my logo to incorporate this new element of my ministry.

And so, in my soul at least, spring has arrived. Inspirational buds are bursting open. I know that, at last, the season of waiting is over and it’s time to move forward. I give thanks to God, and pray that I might be a good steward of this abundance.

When have you experienced seasons of spiritual scarcity in your life? How did the “wait” message come to you? Were you able to be patient and trust, or did you try to push forward anyway? What happened when you trusted, and when you pushed?

When have you experienced seasons of spiritual abundance in your life? Was the transition gradual, or sudden? Did you embrace the abundance, or were you afraid to believe that it was real? Did you remember to give thanks?



My 2016 Lenten Commitment

One morning last week, in prayer, I was reflecting on my reconnection with poetry and realized that I needed some way to integrate personal writing into my life. I’ve been so busy lately, with our move and an abundance of editing work, that I have made no time for my own writing—except for these blogs. Having a Saturday-night deadline each week has made me write—and that is good. What I needed, I realized, was an external structure to assist me in forming an internal poetry habit.IMG_2168

Then it came to me: this is my Lenten discipline for 2016. Those of you who have been following me for a while know that my 2014 Lenten discipline was a life-changing fast from processed sugar. The external structure of a Lenten fast enabled me (in the best sense of that word!) to give up something that was, in essence, a primary way I avoided turning to God in my life. Rather than prayerfully spending time with God when I was tired, or hungry, or unhappy, I reached for the chocolate.

This year, I am choosing to take on something rather than give up something. While our cultural understanding of Lent generally focuses on a “fast,” like giving up coffee or chocolate, the goal of a Lenten discipline is to draw us closer to God. This means that we can think broadly, and creatively, when it comes to choosing a Lenten discipline.

So why is writing poetry a good Lenten discipline for me? In part, it is good because I have received from my Creator a facility with words that needs to be shared. Using our God-given gifts is one way that we draw closer to God. Another reason is that I will need to take time each day to slow down, pay attention, and let the Spirit show me something worth writing about. In this way, I will turn my attention toward God an additional time each day.

So this year I will write, in order to enrich my writing life and grow my relationship with God. What will you do, in this Lenten season, to grow your own relationship with God?

Sharing a Lenten discipline with others helps us to make that commitment and stick with it. I invite you to share your own Lenten commitment, here in the comments below, or with someone else you know and trust.