Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Dancing beyond Duality


The church I attend has a midweek gathering devoted to two types of prayer. We begin with a check-in, then do Centering Prayer for twenty minutes, then conclude with Lectio Divina, where we read a passage three times, asking ourselves specific questions about how we’re responding to the reading. I find it helpful to do both these exercises in a group, as the energy of the group supports my prayer and the responses of others in Lectio Divina enrich my own.

Recently the reading was Romans 7:15–25. I immediately felt my soul resonating with the very first sentences: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” As I continue to prioritize and make choices about participating in a broad range of opportunities in my life, I often find myself making choices that, in hindsight, are not helpful or healthy for me. It’s an age-old conundrum that I would imagine resonates in your heart and soul as well.

Reading further, we can find ourselves caught up in the Apostle Paul’s legalistic language and tendencies, and that was where our group spent much of our time. We struggled with Paul’s dualistic hate for what he calls “the flesh,” which we felt is part of God’s creation just as much as the spirit, what Paul calls “the inmost self.” We wrestled with Paul’s law-based framework and found ourselves discussing the differences between Jesus and Paul.

Paul had a legalistic background and training, and it appears he spent much of his time constructing a “theology,” a structured set of beliefs about the nature of God, Jesus, and humanity. This is in pretty stark contrast to Jesus, whose parables were much more focused on addressing a concrete, immediate reality in his listeners’ lives. Jesus was much more interested in our lived experience of God, rather than in constructing a framework upon which to hang laws about living with God.

This prior paragraph, of course, illustrates dualistic thinking: I either approach life like Paul, or like Jesus. Interestingly, in the early centuries of Christianity, churches tended toward Paul. They established hierarchies (priests, bishops) and religious rules/laws about how to create and sustain Christian community. In contrast, early mystics like the Desert Mothers and Fathers left such law-based life behind, moved out into the Egyptian desert, and set up a collection of hermitages where they told stories (parables) to help each next generation learn about our lived experience of God.

All this relates to how I am seeking to live out this idea of a podcast on hope. I’ve written recently about my tendency to “go it alone,” and that has applied to my thoughts about this podcast as well. As I’ve delved into the nuts and bolts about podcasting, I’ve realized that I cannot do this alone. There simply isn’t enough time and energy available. My initial response was, “Well, then I won’t do it,” but I couldn’t reconcile that reaction with the very clear way that God brought this idea into my life. I found myself feeling caught in the duality of yes/no and I just couldn’t see a way forward.

DOS Hands cropThen God provided me with some conversations and a dream that together helped me to see a third way. I realized that Yes was one end of a spectrum and No was the other—it wasn’t a duality, but a multiplicity of possibilities. Hanging out in the middle of that spectrum was “Yes, and.” In this case, “and” means collaborators. I need to reach out, in and through my various communities, to find organizations willing to take on this dream and help me make it a reality.

In the past, I admit I haven’t been a very good collaborator. I was taught at a young age that success only meant “success at the highest pinnacle of achievement.” As a result, I’m far too perfectionistic and have a tendency to say, “My way or not at all.” That usually means I end up doing all the work. I tend to think I’m happier that way, but that likely isn’t true, and it also means that many of my ideas never see the light of day. I don’t follow through—due to that lack of time and energy to achieve “perfect” results—and those ideas fall into an abyss. Maybe God then picks them up and hands them to others…I hope so. Today, I am also learning to grieve that necessity.

What I’ve recently realized is that, for such ideas to manifest in the world and make a difference, I have to let go of my need for control and perfection. I have to release the concept that ideas are “mine” and recognize that they came first from the mind of my Creator. I have received each one as a gift. Will I hide them away in the dark, letting them perish, or let them out into the light so they can illumine the world?

This week I will be attending a reception of a local organization called Interfaith Community Services. The reception celebrates the milestone of 100 partnering faith communities—quite a testament to collaboration! I intend to walk in with my heart and eyes wide open, hoping to have conversations about the hope podcast and see if anyone is interested in the idea of a collaboration. If so, great! If not, I will see what’s next. One step at a time, I will follow the path and see where it leads. I will release any idea of “mine” and “now” for this podcast idea and let it unfold on a spectrum that God creates rather than a duality I think I control.

I invite you to pray for me in this process, that I can continue to release duality and perfection and welcome whatever comes. I also invite you to consider what dualities you might need to release in your own life.


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Patchwork Road


I made a quick trip back to New Mexico this past week. For the first time, I found myself consciously viewing the area where I used to live from a visitor’s perspective. I actually stopped and took pictures at a number of points on the drive, in part with an eye to Instagram posts, but also from the perspective of capturing the amazing summer clouds. And, with my photographer’s eye “switched on,” I found myself noticing things that had not caught my attention when I lived in the area.

IMG_3009This patch of roadway between Lordsburg and Silver City caught my attention because of its patchwork nature. Like so many roads in this country, its rough spots have been patched over, to the point that, in some places, it actually looked like a patchwork quilt, complete with a different color trim.

This road represents, for me, our own life journeys. God lays the foundation, including the shoulders of the road. We come along and lay down other layers: our own agendas, hopes and dreams. These strata are comprised of everything from the food we eat to the moves we make. Then, over time, things happen: accidents and scrapes, cracks and bulges. Others come along and either increase the stresses on our journey or help us patch things over.

At some point, we must recognize that each of our journeys are not, fundamentally, ours at all. Each is laid upon a base—our bodies and souls—that was crafted by our Creator. Each is profoundly influenced by those we meet along the journey, who either help or hinder us along the way—as we also share our own patchwork contributions with others. Yes, we do our part to fashion our journey—but even the choices we make are influenced by the teaching and opinions of others. Just as the scraps in a traditional patchwork quilt are collected from a variety of sources and pieced into a new creation, our journeys are never ours alone.

Of course, this also means that we can look with delight—or sometimes chagrin—at the patchwork contributions we make to others’ roads. Our capacity for influencing others’ journeys comes with responsibility—for contributing patches instead of stresses, resurfacing instead of additional cracks.

Who have been the most significant patchwork contributors to your road? When have you been able to provide patches for others’ journeys? Have you taken time, then or later, to give thanks to God, and to those others, for their support?


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Hellos


Last week I talked about all the farewells I was making as I departed Silver City. This week I’m going to reflect on the hellos, the new connections, that we make whenever we move to a new place. It’s inevitable, of course. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We exist within a network, a web of community. Even if people think they can live completely independent lives, they really aren’t. Mail is delivered through the work of other people, and the roads on which we travel were paved (or graded) through the hard work of members of that web of community.

So…as I move into a new community, I am moving into a new part of the web. On one of our recent transitional trips to Tucson, Henry and I spent an evening with some of my aunts and uncles in Tubac, a town an hour south of Tucson that has a large tourist-oriented shopping and dining district. IMG_2068Tubac was celebrating “Luminaria Nights,” where the walls and pathways are lined with luminarias and the stores are open late.

Luminarias are a special part of my Christmas experience, as I grew up in a neighborhood in Albuquerque where, on Christmas Eve, luminarias were the only permitted outdoor illumination. None of those fancy Christmas lights…this was about an ancient Southwestern tradition, DSC_4174cwhere candles are placed (safely on a couple inches of sand) inside plain brown paper bags and used to light the way for Mary and Joseph, inviting them to stay for the night since there was no room in the Bethlehem inn.

Well…even as I grieve leaving my “home state” of New Mexico, I am being welcomed to the neighboring state of Arizona where, at least in some areas, the tradition of luminarias is still alive and flourishing. It was truly lovely to see those luminarias, to feel the connection between my old homeland and my new. To know that, truly, the web of community knows no boundaries; we are all one.

And it was into that one web of community that Jesus was born. In this season of Advent, we both await and remember that Jesus came to live among us, in this frail, beautiful, broken, stunning web of human connections.

How are you preparing to say hello, to welcome Jesus into your particular part of the web?


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Farewells


I’ve said a lot of farewells this past week. It was my last time to participate in many of my Silver City activities: laughter yoga, Reiki share, after-school program, hiking date (with some beautiful views of the town)IMG_1998 and, today, church. There’s a real bittersweet nature to saying farewell, even if I might return to some of these for a visit. I will no longer be a “regular,” a part of the community. It’s a definite shift in consciousness, and belonging.

Moves from one city to another aren’t the only occasions for such shifts. The move from one job to another, or from work to retirement, can cause such a shift. The move from single to married status can cause a definite shift in activities, as can the birth of a child.

And that’s where I find myself connecting with Advent this week. Mary experienced a major shift in her life, from being a single young girl, betrothed but still living at home, to being a woman with child, living with Joseph. I can imagine that her tasks changed, and that she began to spend time with the older, married women instead of the young girls in her village. She would have experienced significant shifts in consciousness during this time, from youth to womanhood, from childhood to childbearing.

Her community was also changing its perception of her, from child to adult, and perhaps also to someone of questionable virtue, given that she was visibly going to give birth to a child long before the nine months since her wedding day.

I wonder what kinds of farewells Mary said, in her heart or out loud, to her childhood community, her family, her circle of belonging. I wonder what fears, and hopes, she carried with her into her new roles. Some of my roles will not change because of my move to Tucson; I’ll still be a freelance writer and editor, for instance. But I will need to forge new relationships with groups within the community, as I did in Silver City. I need to find new ways to belong, just as Mary did over two thousand years ago.

I also pray that I will have the strength of heart and faith to sing with confidence as I travel into the unknown. Like Mary, I’m going to be with family. Like Mary, I have seen the fingerprints of God in various stages of this moving process. I pray that I might create my own version of the Magnificat, singing along with Mary: “My soul glorifies my Creator, my spirit rejoices in God! For Henry and I have felt the hand of God’s favor in so many ways….”

Think for a moment about the most recent set of farewells you have experienced in your own life, or some transition taking place in your life in this season. What was the occasion for the change? What shifts of consciousness, and belonging, took place for you? Create your own Magnificat for that season or this one in which you await Christ’s coming.