Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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A New Perspective on Resurrection


Our backyard is awash in yellow on this Easter morning. The palo verde trees are scenting the air with their fragrant blossoms, while the tan landscape rocks beneath are covered in a mix of yellow flowers from both the palo verde and mesquite trees. As I wrote this meditation yesterday, bees were humming above my head, busily gathering nectar from those blossoms under the dome of a clear blue sky.

But while this is a lovely image of spring, it’s not the focus of my meditation on this day of resurrection. One of the gifts of a new home is a new perspective on the changing seasons—both natural and liturgical. The beautiful, fragrant palo verde blossoms have been a revelation this spring, but when it comes to providing a new window on resurrection, nothing beats the ocotillo plant.

DSC_8424During Lent (and much of the rest of the year), the ocotillo looks lifeless. Its slender branches reveal nothing but long, sharp spines and scaly bark. But in spring—just about this time, in fact—the ocotillo begins to blossom. It doesn’t bother with leaves at this stage (those only appear during the rainy season). Instead, it jumps straight from the appearance of death to full-blown, resurrected glory. Bright orange flowers erupt from the end of each branch, joyfully proclaiming the life that has dwelt hidden within during the long weeks of winter and early spring.

One of the gifts of the desert is patience. I’ve had to caution my husband multiple times over the years against prematurely removing a seemingly dead plant from the garden because it was just not yet the right season for it to show new growth. As a spiritual guide, I’ve had to learn a similar type of patience with human seasons as well. When it appears that nothing is happening, that there is only death, I trust that the Spirit is nonetheless alive and working, and I wait for the eventual, inevitable signs of resurrection.

DSC_8811cOn this day—and week—as so many of us remember Jesus’ resurrection, I invite you to consider the “dead” seasons in your own life, and the eventual, inevitable signs of resurrection which have followed. If you, or those you love, are not yet bursting forth into blossom, do not despair. Instead, be patient. Wait and trust. Easter will come.

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Lenten Poems


Today I thought I would share a couple of my Lenten poems. Clearly, there is a theme here…perhaps one with which you are familiar…. I invite you to ponder what rises for you as you read, and let it lead you into prayer….


Running in the Present MomentIMG_2173 crop

Lent is booked

Solid

With activities:

Family visits

Travels for work

Travels for pleasure

Travels for “rest”

Oh, and home renovations

 

No time for stillness

Except in “stolen” moments

 

How does the Dalai Lama do it?

I imagine his schedule

Must be just as crazy

 

I remember reading somewhere

Sometime

About his ability

To pay attention

To respond to you

As if you were

The only person in the universe

 

That is truly

Living in the present moment.

 

I also imagine

That he can do this

Because

He has handlers

Who pay the bills

Organize the tax paperwork

Book the plane flights

Cook dinner.

 

Is it possible

For an ordinary person

To imitate the Dalai Lama?

I can only try.

 

I can wake each day

With the goal of

Running in the present moment

And keep an eye out

In my peripheral vision

For the Spirit

Who runs alongside.


 

Of Shoulds and Oughts and Crazy Talk

I am not a robot

But some days I struggle

To resist societal definitions

Of work

And rest

And the forbidden fruit

Of lying in the winter sun

Like a cat

Letting myself release

My human doing.

 

Internal messages

Deeply ingrained

Then projected outward

On loved ones

Who worry.

 

I wonder

How life would be

As a modern monk;

A different set

Of shoulds and oughts

Entwined around a rhythm

Of prayer

And work

And rest

And recognition

Of human being…

 

Come,

Spirit whispers.

Lie in the sun

With me.

 


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Momentary Traveling Companions


Last week we spent a few days in San Diego. It was a gift to have some time near the sea and, although I also spent two days editing, the advantage of freelance work is that I can do it anywhere that has internet access! One of the highlights of our trip was a whale watch where we got amazingly close to both whales and dolphins.

DSC_8240cAt one point, a group of dolphins literally sped straight toward us, head-on, then changed course and swam alongside, directly under the front bow of the boat. It was exhilarating to have them underneath us, swimming along at our pace, clearly enjoying the chance to move in sync with us and be our traveling companions for a brief portion of our journey. Just as quickly as they arrived, they disappeared, moving on to whatever was next for their day.

In contrast, we had to go in search of the whales. Rather than being full-time residents of the area, these were the travelers, moving through this patch of ocean on the early stages of their 6,000-mile journey from lagoons in Mexico to the islands off Alaska. Fortunately for us, another whale-watch boat had encountered a group of three California gray whales and we were able to take our turn in accompanying those whales for a brief portion of their journey before speeding back to San Diego in time for a late lunch.

DSC_8490eOur boat captain proposed that two of the whales were mating, or close to doing so, and certainly they were not just spouting and diving. There was a lot of twisting and rolling, and I got some amazing pictures of the two of them swimming close to and around each other. But, unlike the dolphins, they really weren’t paying attention to us; they were on their own journey, with their own agendas, and we were just privileged to move alongside of them for a while.

Upon reflection after our journey was over, I found myself thinking about the different ways that we companion others in our own lives. Henry and I sat next to a pair of local residents on the first part of our journey. We enjoyed some conversation—she and I about photography and the whales, the two men about their prior experiences of life near the ocean—and the excitement of our encounters with these magnificent ocean creatures. She was the one who made me aware that our encounter with the whales had been amazingly close and unusual. But those human encounters were also brief; we didn’t trade business cards or say anything about keeping in touch. Instead, we acknowledged our gratefulness for the opportunity to share this amazing experience, then moved on.

In contrast, of course, Henry and I have been traveling together for 23 years now. We’ve had a number of such brief encounters through the years. Some of them have shaped our lives, while others have enriched it. But each connection with momentary traveling companions has become a piece of the mosaic that is our life. Whether they help us remember prior experiences or bring us new information that enriches the present moment, they are blessings in our lives.

Take a moment to remember a recent chance encounter with some momentary traveling companions. What gift did you bring? What did you receive? How might your own life be enriched by more intentionally participating in, and giving full attention to, those moments in your life?


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Living an Unsealed Life


It’s been a rather disrupted week at our house. Somehow the wax ring on our bathroom toilet came unsealed and slowly leaked water under the tiles, so we didn’t know there was a problem until the baseboards started to change color and develop mold…. We’ve made lots of phone calls, had visits from contractors and an insurance adjustor, put up with lots of noise (while I’m trying to finish editing a spiritual memoir!) and generally had our daily routines rather thoroughly disrupted.

IMG_2236I’ve also now had first-hand experience with the work of mold remediation, and it’s been interesting. After the moldy baseboards, carpeting and wall boards were removed, the toilet area in our bathroom was thoroughly sealed off as machines did their best to remove all the moisture and mold spores from that area. I found myself pondering the fact that our business cultures have become so specialized that they’ve even created a type of zipper tape that allows workers to go into a sealed-off area with minimal disruption to, or contamination of, the outer world!

Watching the contractor work put me in mind of other types of sealing-off that are being discussed around me. So many Republican presidential candidates are adamant on the need to seal off our country’s borders to somehow protect us from other human beings—as if those immigrants were a type of mold spore that would infect this country with crime or other contaminants. The irony, of course, is that all of them are the children of prior generations of immigrants, many of whom were treated just as poorly in earlier decades.

At the same time as all this is going on, that spiritual memoir has been speaking to me. The author, a woman named Mary, had a powerful spiritual experience on a mountaintop in Mexico that led her to give her retirement years to volunteer work for the poorest of the poor in Mexico. She, in essence, did exactly the opposite of those politicians. Rather than sealing herself off from the Mexicans, she crossed the border to bring what hope and healing she could while thoroughly immersing herself in their life, their culture, their struggles and joys.

I am convinced that “Mary has chosen the better part,” to use the words of Jesus in Luke 10:42. God did not create walls, plastic, and zipper tape; we did. God did not create border patrols, fences, and guns; we did. While I appreciate the remediation work occurring in my bathroom, I do not appreciate the cultural remediation being preached by so many in our country—including in my new home state of Arizona. We, like Mary, are called to live an unsealed life.

Where, and how, are you called to live an unsealed life?