Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering



I had a dream this week that seems to speak to perseverance in the face of threat. In the dream, explosives were being prepared in one area of a building, while a young ceramic artist had been invited to show and sell her wares in another part of the building. Naturally, that juxtaposition caught my attention. As I’m preparing to put myself further “out there” with this website, I wonder if this pre-teen child is some part of myself, preparing to display my fragile spiritual wares, putting them out into the world in new ways, even in the midst of a time when society seems focused on self-destruction.

I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt that way. He taught and healed openly, even when the religious leaders challenged his authority and conspired with political leaders to destroy him. Did they feel the situation was untenable—that it might explode at any time?

DSC_0544 ecropI sometimes wonder if what I have to offer is relevant in such troubled times, both in the US and around the world. Yet, in prayer, I come to realize, over and over, that we must return to our roots. We must be grounded in our faith, in our hope in the God of Love, both so that we are not swept up into self-destruction and so that we might, perhaps, help a few others to find a hopeful, nonviolent path.

This is not, by definition, a safe or easy path. Shrapnel has no respect for conscience, nor political perspectives. Yet the child in my dream persevered, and found joy in the sales she made, celebrating with her parents and focusing on that joy. As Jesus taught, she focused on today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

I pray that my offerings may bring joy and light in challenging times. Even if my ministry may not seem to directly impact an explosive social and political situation, I am trusting that my calling will bring hope in the darkness, one loving offering at a time.

How are you called to offer love and light in these challenging times?


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Lightening the Load

My phone has been acting up lately. The most frequent—now daily—problem has been a spontaneous disconnection with the phone service. It doesn’t tell me that it’s no longer accepting calls. I’ll look at it at some point and see “No Service.” If I’m in the house, I’m on Wi-Fi and still getting data, which means folks would have a way to get through to me—if they knew to text or email rather than call. But it’s concerning, especially since this is my only phone, for both business and personal use.

I’ve investigated and found a reset, but it doesn’t always work or last long. I’ve also seen Apple acknowledge that they’ve been slowing apps to deal with battery issues in older phones…but this isn’t that kind of issue, as far as I can tell. I’ve tried to discern patterns, but no luck so far…although the latest possibility is that there’s a tiny void in coveragecentered around the right side of my office desk….?

Meanwhile, I did decide that perhaps one issue might be an overload in the photo-storage department. While Henry has downloaded tons of music to his phone, I’ve used this phone as my camera in a lot of circumstances, especially low-light circumstances, over the past few years. Henry bought me a tool to more easily download all those photos, and I used it this week to lighten my camera’s load.

b367e6cb8bd10d57-photoI was surprised—but not shocked, as Henry was—to discover that I had collected over 7,000 photos on my phone (including almost 600 from our trip to the Holy Land, exactly a year ago; here, I’m tucking a prayer into the Western Wall). I’m hoping that by removing most of them to my offline backup files, I will free up space and energy for my phone to respond more nimbly with what I need it to do. I hope this partly because I don’t want to shell out for a new one, and partly because I don’t like some of the features of the newer models. (I sometimes wonder if I’m approaching “old fogey” in some areas of my life!)

This lightening of the load has also been taking place in other areas of my life. I’ve cut back on the wisdom emails I receive. There’s a lot of good stuff out there on the Internet—and I hope I’m contributing to the abundance!—but I do need to focus on the generation of material more than on consumption. My bookshelves are also full to overflowing, despite culling books whenever we move…but that’s probably another entire reflection, in and of itself…!

I found myself thinking of the phone as getting older and not always able to keep up with the newest and latest versions of things. Am I also weighed down by the newest and latest? I know I’ve felt drawn back to scripture—to my roots in the Gospels—ever since that trip to Israel. So I am praying: Holy Spirit, where do you desire me to focus my attention?

How might you lighten your load? What might the Holy Spirit desire for you?


Talking about Ourselves

We are—God willing—entering the home stretch in the development of my new website. This means it’s time to review all the language I gave to my web development team—many months ago!—to see what I might want to update or change.

This is tough. I’m not naturally the kind of person who likes to talk about who she is and what she does. I prefer to let my actions speak for themselves. I prefer to let clients talk about my work—and I do have a number of excellent testimonials, which I will be using. But there’s that “About” page—the one that explains who I am and what credentials and experience I have for the work I do. That’s a challenge. How do you sum up 50+ years of life and ministry in a few short, meaningful sentences?

I found myself thinking about Jesus in that regard. It didn’t take long for word to spread about him. Halfway through the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we read this: “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Of course, his life and times were very different from ours. There was no internet, so he wasn’t competing with the constantly updated news coming in from around the world when it was time to talk about the events of the day over a simple dinner of pita bread and goat cheese. Word about him spread slowly (at least in comparison with the spread of news today), through word of mouth.

This is actually how I prefer for word of my ministry to spread. I’d prefer for other people to talk about what I’ve done, and the good I’ve been able to achieve for them. It’s somehow more authentic that way. I also feel that it lets the Holy Spirit be in charge of how word spreads and what gets said.

So why have a website? It’s sort of a both/and situation. I know that, to operate in this modern world, I need a place where people can come—once they’ve heard of me, or if they’re searching for someone with my gifts and skills—to learn more about what I have to offer and find a way to contact me. DSC_8755Today, the standard for that is a website; in Jesus’ time, it probably was encountering him in the Capernaum synagogue (pictured here) or the meeting cubicles built into the city gates. I also see this website as a place where people can pause for some refreshment and reflection (as it will have a rotating gallery of my photos and thoughts/questions at the top). In this way, I am reverting to type: showing visitors what I have to share, rather than expending a lot of words to talk about it. (Which is ironic, considering that words are my primary professional tool!)

For today, however, it’s the About page that needs my attention. I’ll leave you with this question: If you had to sum up your life and work/ministry in a few short, meaningful sentences, what would you say?



Happy Unsettled New Year

It’s been a rough few weeks. One person in my circle has died, another was in an induced coma and her husband is recovering from blood clots, and someone else had a heart attack. I’ve also received emails from folks I know, asking for prayers for others who are struggling with health issues.

This year doesn’t feel like it’s off to a good start—but I recognize that this could be perspective. Perhaps we take turns and, in other years, this is the reality for other circles of people.

Then there’s what’s happening with the weather—Florida colder than Alaska, major storms bringing sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions, while we here in the desert are experiencing many days that are warmer than “normal.”

I often feel that normal no longer exists.

This past week I was editing an article for a client about New Year’s resolutions, and how to set goals for the year ahead. We talked about how resolutions aren’t for everyone. In fact, it feels like I hear less about resolutions every year. We don’t seem to resolve to do things. We are less resolute, perhaps.

Does this need resolving? (Should I resolve to stop with the wordplay?!)

DSC_2592eAs I sense all the unsettledness around me, I feel pulled back to my roots. Winter is a good season for focusing on roots; when snow covers the ground, roots are the only part of the tree that stays active. Everything that’s above ground essentially shuts down.

What are my roots? Nature certainly plays a role, and I do feel more grounded when I have a chance to get outdoors in nature. I hiked with a friend this past week, and have another hike scheduled for the week ahead. I’m grateful for the chance to spend time connecting with God’s creation.

I am also feeling drawn back to the Bible, and not just because of the work I’m doing. Remembering the struggles of prior generations can help us mentally and emotionally take a step back and embrace a broader perspective. Death is a part of life. Winter is necessary for spring. That doesn’t make it easier for those who are struggling and grieving now, but it does help us remember that we are not, ultimately, experiencing anything new.

Are you unsettled as this new year begins? What roots might you draw upon to sustain you in this season?



A New Perspective on Christ’s Coming

One of the gifts that arrived in my freelancer inbox a few weeks ago was an invitation to write for the Loose-Leaf Lectionary. One of the awesome things about writing for them is that the assignments come a year in advance, so I’m writing about the seasons I’m currently experiencing. It’s been such a blessing to delve more deeply into scripture and make some new and interesting connections. Since the reflections are my own (and will be credited as such), I can see some of those ideas showing up here, in my blog posts. Last week was one such example, and this week is, too.

One of the daily office readings in the last week of Advent was from the Song of Solomon. It surprised me to encounter it in Advent…and led me to think about how limiting our viewpoint of anticipation of Christ’s coming tends to be. As we approached our commemoration of Jesus’ nativity, I bet most of us tended to focus either on the baby in the manger or the triumphant Messiah returning to inaugurate “a new heavens and a new earth.” And yet…Christ is so much more than either of those images. Christ comes to us as teacher, mentor, stern judge, fellow sojourner—and also as lover, as we hear in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon.

DSC_0025 cloister window 2“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills…. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.” Here, he is in the prime of life—and who could argue but that the resurrection is the prime of life!—and he peers through the windows and shutters of our bedroom bower, seeking to be invited in.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.… The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance…. In the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice.’” He calls us to come away from hiding behind shutters, safe in our accustomed spaces, and run with him in the wilderness. He calls us to experience the hidden crevasses of safety that can be found in even the most challenging of cliff-face climbs. He invites us to join him, out in the world, where figs and flowers will delight us and his company will enrich our lives immeasurably.

Psalm 33:3 encourages us to sing a new song to our God. What might your new song of love sound like in this Christmas season? How are you called to be Christ’s lover, and act on his behalf in this challenging world, in the year ahead?



The Relative Relevance of Place in the Spiritual Life

I had not realized this, but I’m still coming to terms, in my heart, with the disappointment that we will not be going to Israel in January. (Given the unrest that is developing there as a result of Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy, this may turn out to be for the best—but still, I grieve.)

I recently read Psalm 122—with “new eyes.” I realized that it could well have been written by a pilgrim who is coming up to Jerusalem for the first time. He—or she!—is excited at the prospect of coming to Jerusalem, and seems to be composing this psalm upon arrival: “Now our feet are finally standing within your gates!” Imagine the pilgrim group, looking up toward the temple, built on the top of the hill. First impressions abound: Jerusalem is “built as a city with compact unity.” Perhaps this really means, “This place isn’t as big as legend has made it—but it sure is well-built!” Like a tourist, the psalmist talks about seeing the judgment seats and watching the tribes going to and fro on the roads—just as Isaiah prophesied.

IMG_4362eSo what about those for whom the trip to Jerusalem, and Israel, is not possible? I’m not the only one who is disappointed that our trip did not come together, and those others who planned to join us haven’t been there before. I have memories—including images like this, taken when we visited the Church of the Nativity on the day the Armenians celebrate Christmas. IMG_4360eOn this Christmas Eve, there’s a part of me that would love to be there, in the midst of the celebration—but I am not.

In rather stark contrast to the need to “be there” is the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. It’s a teaching moment for Jesus, rather than by Jesus. All this “Jerusalem worship” seems to have infused into the Jews the idea that only Jerusalem is holy, and miracles can only take place through physical proximity or touch, as Jesus intends to do in order to heal the centurion’s servant. But the centurion has a different perspective. He believes that authority and agency transcend physicality. He recognizes that God’s presence is everywhere, and believes that Jesus can authorize healing “long distance,” without the need for touch.

I wonder: Might this be the moment when the human Jesus first fully understood the role of the Holy Spirit?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus in our midst, then and now, let’s remember that, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, it does not matter where we are. Christ in God has the authority to reach out, touch, and heal us, wherever we are—to bring love to every corner of this tattered, shattered world, no matter how dark the time.

May you have a Blessed Christmas!


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Pointing the Way

I collect nativity sets. I don’t really remember how it started, or which one came first, but I’ve ended up with close to twenty of them, large and small. This week, we pulled a number of them out of boxes in the garage and set them up on the bar-height counter in our kitchen, where they can remind us of the Incarnation every time we walk through the house.

IMG_7063Like so much in this Advent season, these crèches are meant to point the way to the Christ child. They are representative interpretations of the scene on the night of Jesus’ birth, but each one is different. Some are very lifelike, while others are more abstractly representational. Many are decorated with the specific designs, clothing, and faces of the cultures where they were created. At this point, I have nativity sets from around the world, ranging from as far away as Africa and the Middle East (the one pictured here, which we picked up in Bethlehem in January) and as close as the Native American pueblos near where I grew up.

We are as different as these nativity sets, but each of us are created to point toward God, in our own way. Each of us are called, with Isaiah, to “prepare the way of the Lord.” We might be called to make paths straight, or rough places smooth, or to raise valleys and bulldoze down hills that prevent others from seeing and embracing the God of Love who came to live among us. We do this through our own lives, using the specific—even unique—blend of God-given gifts and human-cultivated skills that have made us the children of God that we are.

We might do this through crafting nativity sets or by composing letters to our congressional representatives. We could do this by volunteering at a shelter or fundraising in support of those less fortunate than ourselves. We can do this, day in and day out, with kind words, generous gestures, and simple acts that prove we believe every child on earth to be a child of God—and perhaps even Jesus in disguise.

How are you called to point the way, to concretely live out Christ’s Incarnation in this last full week of Advent?