Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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The Power of Water

I visited a new-to-me canyon last week: the Catwalk Recreation Area in southwestern New Mexico. The place is named after an old wooden walkway that was erected over a mining-related water pipeline installed in Whitewater Canyon over a century ago. While the mining has stopped, and the walkway long ago fell apart, this has been a popular recreation area for decades. In fact, the US Forest Service installed a newer metal walkway that follows the old pipeline and allows visitors to safely wend their way back into this gorgeous, steep-sided canyon.

dsc_4657But that safety comes with a caveat. The reason I had not previously visited the Catwalk was that the “newer” walkway was severely damaged by flooding in 2014 and took almost two years and $4.4 million to reconstruct. In fact, the entire suspended walkway had to be replaced, using different materials. The new catwalk certainly appears stronger, and it’s also bolted to support structures embedded in the canyon’s walls—perhaps (I’ve been told) to make it possible to remove the entire structure in case a future flood threatens…! (I do wonder about that…the term “flash flood” was coined because it’s often impossible to have much advance warning for those things!)

The power of water is immense, but we do tend to take it for granted. Water carved the Grand Canyon, though it took millennia to do so. Water has repeatedly torn out sections of the scenic drive through the Black Range east of Silver City, forcing road closures while repairs are made. Water also recently devastated areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana—although you might not have thought about that lately, because the disaster attention span in this country is miniscule in comparison with the actual recovery time. It could also take two years and millions of dollars for many parts of Baton Rouge to return to normal—and so many of those folks don’t have the resources of the US Government behind them to effect repairs! (If you’d like to help out with that endeavor, my spiritual director colleague Becky Eldridge, who lives in the area, recommends Catholic Charities or the Baton Rouge Area Foundation).

So what does this have to do with the spiritual life? I find my heart going in a variety of directions. I invite you to read through these questions and ponder how the Holy Spirit might be inviting you to respond:

  • When did you last take time to appreciate the beauty of the moment, recognizing that it could all be swept away tomorrow?
  • How has the power of water impacted your life, or the life of your family or your ancestors?
  • Has devastation or natural disaster occurred in your area in the past couple of years? Is there anything you might do to support those who are still struggling to recover?
  • Do you take water for granted? How might you appreciate water and its essential, complex role in your life?


Toggle Back to God

The Centering Prayer group that I’m attending is opening lots of interesting avenues of thought and prayer in me. In addition to providing the discipline I need to show up for this type of prayer more frequently, I’m also reflecting on the experience of prayer, which I usually don’t do. Reflecting on something is not part of the prayer itself, but there is still much to be learned from noticing what does, and does not happen, in prayer.

img_3289Recently my reflections took the form of a poem. I’ve also been spending time with the Psalms, and Psalm 136 came to mind because of its repetition. Every other line of this psalm speaks of God’s mercy enduring forever. It’s the underlying theme of the psalm, and I found myself thinking of it as a recurrent reminder of God’s presence, beneath and within everything that happens. In “good” times and “bad” (all open to interpretation, of course!), God is there.

And then…I pondered the Centering Prayer instruction, when we are distracted or distressed, to “ever so gently return to your sacred word.” Putting it in today’s language, sitting at my computer, I found myself thinking of toggling back and forth between one thing and another, repeatedly returning to God when we wander away…and the poem was born.

May it inspire your own reflection on prayer and its role in your life.


Toggle Back to God


Websites weave animosity

Toggle back to God

Pundits peddle profanity

Toggle back to God

Television illuminates adversity

Toggle back to God

Sales pitches scream of scarcity

Toggle back to God


Formless fields of sunlight

Toggle back to God

Lake reflecting moon bright

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Hand reached out to stop fight

Toggle back to God

Patience paid to set right

Toggle back to God


Fierce familial love fest

Toggle back to God

Springtime weave of bird nest

Toggle back to God

Striving now to do best

Toggle back to God

In contentment now rest

Toggle back to God


© 2016 Shirin McArthur



On Choosing Whether or Not to See

Henry and I have an adventure in our future—God willing. We will be traveling to Israel in January. For many years, Henry has wanted to visit the Holy Land, and now appears to be the time. (We actually signed up for another tour a couple of years ago, but unrest in the area caused the trip to be cancelled.)

In preparation for the trip, we have begun reading a list of books recommended by our tour leader. One of those is My Promised Land by Ari Shavit. Shavit begins by writing of his wealthy British great-grandfather, who visited the Holy Land in 1897 with a group of twenty other Jewish British citizens. Shavit states that his great-grandfather chose not to see that the land was already occupied by Arabs, because if he did not see, he could justify making this his home, and the home of his people, especially persecuted Eastern European Jews.

As I read this, I couldn’t help recognizing the parallels with the European colonization of America, and the continued fact of (mostly) powerful white men in this country choosing not to see the indigenous inhabitants. I think specifically of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, where Native Americans have been protesting the installation—invasion?—of this pipeline, running under major waterways and disturbing sacred lands in the Dakotas. Furthermore, one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in history has been, for the most part, studiously ignored by the media in favor of continuous micro-analysis of the presidential election circus.

American greed (Do we really need Canada’s tar-sand oil—the dirtiest kind—when we already produce so much of our own fuel and should be investing in cleaner wind and solar instead?) is once again running roughshod over deeper concerns. Those with power are refusing to see others, whose claims to the land are older than our nation itself. The powerful probably believe that they can indeed ignore the natives, just as American leaders have almost universally done since shortly after Europeans began arriving on American soil.

We—as a culture—just don’t get it. And yet…this week, minutes after a judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux’s request to halt construction of the pipeline, the American government actually stepped in to stop work on a part of the pipeline, ask the pipeline-building company to “voluntarily pause” its work, and state the need for time to confront the larger questions about “considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”

This is epic. This is choosing to see. This is recognizing that there is more than one perspective on Holy Land, its history, and the people who care about it. This can be the beginning of major change—of actually seeing others and honoring their needs as well as our own. It is, indeed, loving our neighbors as ourselves—as Jesus said in “the” Holy Land two thousand years ago.

So what does all this mean in terms of my visiting Israel? It means that the Palestinians and the Native Americans make good corollaries for my understanding of at least some of the complex situation there. Jesus also lived in an occupied land, where the Romans, for the most part, did not choose to see the Jewish people. And yet…Jesus told his followers to love their neighbors as themselves. I imagine that he meant all their neighbors—even those who did not see them, or love them back. If there is nothing else that the current situation in the Holy Land (and in the Dakotan Holy Lands) has taught us, it is that we must begin to truly see each other before we can learn to love.

dsc_6933-holy-groundWhere are your Holy Lands? This is one of mine, in the mountains of northern New Mexico. I have encountered God there, but I admit I still need to learn to look for the others who dwell here.

Do you truly see all your neighbors? How might you learn to better see and love them?


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Continuous Learning

I grew up in the desert—although our yard did not reflect that. Albuquerque, New Mexico gets less than ten inches of rain a year, but I lived in the more fertile Rio Grande River Valley, in a city well supplied with aquifer water. We had grass and pine trees in the front yard, a horse pasture and garden in the back, and cottonwood trees on every side.

IMG_3244But I also grew up learning about cactus. If we drove up onto the mesa, a wide, flat area on the west side of the river, I could see various types of cacti and experience blowing sand and desert heat. I learned the names of cholla and prickly pear cacti and understood the precious value of water, even if the well from which our family drew its water never ran dry.

Our valley oasis in the midst of the desert was particularly clear when we flew in and out of Albuquerque on various trips. A ribbon of green literally cut through the desert, meandering along either side of the Rio Grande, through town and beyond in both directions, as far as the eye could see. Once we left the valley, flying west, all I could see was vast expanses of undulating shades of brown. There was beauty in the brown—spectacular shapes and shades of color—but the underlying desert showed through clearly.

Now I live in a very different type of desert. Stately saguaro cacti and tall palo verde trees (translated as “green stick,” for its green bark) actually make Tucson appear much greener than most of Albuquerque—at least beyond that fertile river valley. As Henry and I are learning about our own new microclimate, I’ve discovered that I am once again living in a fertile river valley. Although the Santa Cruz River runs nearby, it is dry for much of the year. The underground aquifer, however, has watered generations of crops in this area, mostly cotton, making our particular patch of ground more fertile than most.

Henry and I have moved a lot over the twenty-plus years of our marriage. One thing I’ve recognized is that there’s always more to learn about each habitat we inhabit. As summer slides into fall here—which is still plenty hot, but at least we can begin working on our backyard landscaping projects again in early mornings—we’re beginning to register for local gardening and desert-landscaping classes. They will teach us about the particularities of our new home, and how to garden in sync with the climate and the native species, rather than in conflict with them.IMG_3239

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the barrel cactus blossoms, which are peaking in these late-summer weeks—something I have not experienced before. There is always more to learn about this precious, God-given world we inhabit.

What have you learned this week? Where has God’s incredible creation spoken to you?