Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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?


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Don’t Go It Alone

My recent experiences of surveying my constituents and applying for a grant to podcast about hope have brought one thing clearly to mind: I do not work alone. I may sometimes feel that I do, typing away at my desk, day after day. I may not have anyone else in the room with me, but I work within a very real and essential community. I have clients, collaborators, mentors, supporters…and a God that I lean on through it all.

DSC_8124e trinity of archesEven God does not go it alone. Today is Trinity Sunday, which celebrates the relationship between our Creator, the risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I attended a conference on the Trinity in April (another way that I do not work alone; we all need new input and inspiration on a regular basis) and came away with a number of images and ideas about the collaborative and interconnected work of God.

One idea that I’d like to share with you today was taught at the conference by Wm Paul Young, author of The Shack. He pointed out that Jesus trusted the Holy Spirit to follow along after him, rather than thinking he had to do the work of the Spirit himself. For example, he’d perform a miracle in a town, then move on, trusting the Spirit to take it from there.

You see, someone’s story doesn’t end with Jesus’ transforming miracle. Each person whose life is changed by Jesus then needs to learn how to live into that new way of life. Otherwise the transformation won’t take root and grow—similar to the seed that falls on the path or rocky ground and withers away under duress.

Jesus knows that the Holy Spirit is the best companion for that “following through” stage in the life of faith. The Spirit is called “advocate” and “comforter” because those roles support the day-to-day life of a maturing Christian. As much as we might like Jesus to always be with us in person, he’s part of a team. At some point, he is going to hand us off into the care of the Spirit.

When I first meet with people to explain my ministry of spiritual direction, I talk about the fact that God is the actual director. I’m listening to God on their behalf when I meet with them for spiritual guidance. I also believe that God is the director on a much broader, deeper scale, guiding the work of Jesus and the Spirit in a dance that spans the globe, the cosmos, and all of creation: more than our finite human minds can possibly imagine.

The Trinity is a trio of persons with a variety of roles. They don’t go it alone, and neither should we.

Do you tend to go it alone? Are there areas of your life that could benefit from embracing a supportive Trinity model of collaborative life and work?

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Merry Christmas!

May you find your way to a place to rest in Christ during this holy Christmas season….IMG_2069



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?


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Taking the Baby into 2015

Happy New Year! This week we finally got a taste of winter snow—which left Henry grumbling about “this is why we left New England!” as he cleaned off the car to go to work.

I, on the other hand, found myself mesmerized by the snow. My friend and I had canceled our weekly hike, leaving me with the gift of being able to stay home, warm and dry, and work all day. Like a young child, I found myself drawn to the windows to watch the flakes fall, hour after hour. The silent beauty captivated me. The layers of landscape, increasingly obscured by the accumulation of tiny bits of white, drew me in like a magnet. I was perfectly content to just sit and watch it through the windows—which was a great spiritual exercise in slowing down and living in the moment, even as it put my day’s work in jeopardy.

When did you last truly take time to pay attention to the first snowfall of the season? When did you last let the wonder of a child guide your actions, or slow you down to truly experience something precious, and as fleeting as snow in the desert?

IMG_0778This is still the Christmas season, even though our culture is barreling on into 2015. I invite you to take the Christ child with you into the new year. Let him remind you to take time to wonder, to savor, to live in the moment. While you do this, remember also to give thanks for the gift of this new year, and all the blessed moments that will come with it.