Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Ready or Not….

Recently I led my church’s Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina sessions for a couple weeks while our priest was on vacation. I chose for one Lectio Divina session the story of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, two by two, to preach his message of repentance—the same message, coincidentally, that was at the root of John the Baptist’s ministry. It was helpful to share perspectives on this text and imagine together what it must have been like to be told, “It’s your turn. Go preach and teach and heal.”

I found myself thinking back to the summer I did Clinical Pastoral Education at Massachusetts General Hospital. On our very first week, on our second afternoon, our CPE supervisors said, “Okay now, time to go out and start visiting patients.” As I recall, all of us responded with some version of shock and concern. We weren’t ready. We’d only been in the program for a day and a half, and much of that had been devoted to orientation and paperwork. Surely there was a lot more we needed to do to be ready!

DSC_0672cOur supervisors insisted—and we obeyed. At the time, it felt analogous to learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Almost thirty years later, I can somewhat see the supervisors’ perspective. We were seminary students with at least a year of study behind us. They had accepted us into the program, based on—I presume—at least some level of assessment of the study and service we’d already undertaken.

Also, sometimes, it’s easier to dive into that pool all at once—even if we fear the water will be cold and deep. Stepping in, inch by inch, makes the process more painful in the long run. So, ready or not, we dove into our brand-new mission field. We all survived and, to the best of my knowledge, so did the patients.

As I continue to dance around the edge of the podcast pool, writing this makes me squirm in my seat. It might be that the best way to embrace the podcasting is to simply start doing it. And yet…Jesus told his disciples to go out in pairs. In CPE, we had our supervisors and a small group of fellow students to support, encourage and teach us. I don’t yet have any partner(s) for this undertaking. So I am sometimes dancing, sometimes sitting, at the edge of the pool. I am watching and learning, not knowing when the order will come to jump in—but that it will come, whether I feel ready or not.

What “ready or not” stories do you have in your life? Are you dancing around the edge of a pool yourself during these hot summer days?


Leave a comment


IMG_0666One of the wonderful things about our hikes is the mysteries that we encounter. This past week we were hiking on national forest land and encountered these two small stone buildings. They were clearly well-made and had stood the test of time, but it wasn’t at all clear why they had been constructed in this out-of-the-way location. Here they were, in the middle of the forest, with their open doorways revealing nothing inside except debris and, in one case, evidence of fire.IMG_0668

A closer look revealed even more mysteries. Both buildings had large, curved metal pipes built into the walls, most likely for drainage. This would have made more sense if the top had been open, but both roofs were well-constructed from rebar-reinforced concrete. The doorways were sheathed in metal, but the doors themselves were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they have been scavenged or stolen once the buildings were no longer in use.

Initially I thought they might be hiking waystations of some sort, but they were too close together, and had no windows. My hiking buddy suggested that they might be ice houses, and that would certainly explain the drain pipes—although where people would have found enough ice in the desert to store here remains a mystery.

IMG_0623Here is another mystery that we discovered a few months ago on another hike. It is clearly some animal’s backbone, but for us amateurs, there’s no way to know what type of animal it comes from. We have no idea when this animal lived and for how long, whether it survived to a ripe old age or was cut down in its prime, what it ate, and loved, and feared, and dreamed.

Every act of ours can be a mystery to others. I’m sure that those who built these buildings in the forest had very good reasons for doing so, but I will likely never know what they are. Every choice that I make could be a mystery to someone else, whose life experience and current needs could be very different from my own.

Every one of us is a mystery to others. Since we are all mysteries to each other, would it not be wise to treat each other as gifts? What if we viewed every mysterious act taken by another as a curiosity rather than a threat, a reason for compassion rather than ridicule? In this season of Thanksgiving, when the world is also focused on fear and violence, I think that we could all benefit from reflecting on the ultimate mystery that each of us is to everyone else.

We are all God’s children. We are all made for love. We can take steps to protect ourselves, but we also need to love one another, and honor the mystery. How might you do that today?

1 Comment


The monsoon season is here. Summer in New Mexico usually means sunny mornings and increasing heat, followed by the buildup of towering clouds and spectacular afternoon thunderstorms. I love the smell of rain, the coolness of the storms in contrast with summer’s heat, and the fact that all of my garden gets watered without my need to devote time and energy to the process.

IMG_1727 IMG_1739Last week was no exception to the monsoon pattern, and even the 250-gallon rain barrels we installed last year seemed to fill up in an instant. In fact, there were days last week when I began to feel a bit overwhelmed with the overflowing rain barrels. They’re great for collecting scarce water, but when the water isn’t scarce, they overflow and I found myself worrying about damage to our home’s foundation.

Of course, it’s easy to make sure there’s nothing blocking the flow of water away from our house, because we live on a gentle slope and the space is well-designed. As I reflected more deeply on my fears, I realized that they had more to do with fearing the overflow because it was out of my control. I couldn’t turn off that water spigot in the sky; the rain was just going to keep on pouring down.

So what could I choose to do instead? For one thing, I could embrace the rain. When no lightning lingers, I could even go out and dance with the raindrops! Unlike the wicked witch of the west, I don’t melt. In fact, I could probably benefit from being a bit more wild and carefree than is my usual tendency!

I also struggle with accepting my lack of control in other areas of my life. It’s common as a freelancer to find myself talking about “feast or famine,” but I could just as easily say that “my rain barrel is overflowing” when the work piles up on me. Managing a high volume of work can be as challenging as managing a full rain barrel. Do I say no to a project, presuming there’s enough work to keep the rain barrel full? How much do I micromanage the level of water, as opposed to letting is spill over, sharing the wealth with others? Can I trust that it will rain again? In July, probably. Come September, not so much.

And yet…perhaps a better response is to celebrate the overflowing of work during the rainy season and trust that there will be work enough in the drier times of year. There is, after all, one client who always has work available, and I can dip into that well if my rain barrel runs completely dry. When I remember that, and remind myself that I am not in control—of the rain or the workflow—then I am freer to focus my time and energy on what is in front of me in each moment.

As Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…. Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … For [God] knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

Do you worry about those things over which you have no control? Can you embrace the overflowing rain barrels in your life and dance with the raindrops, trusting that there will be enough water in the future?