Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Paella and People

IMG_0855Last night Henry and I tried our hand at making paella for the first time. Paella is a destination dish for Henry; we’ve had it in Spain, Puerto Rico, and San Diego, as well as numerous places in between. But this was our first time to try making it ourselves—out in the middle of the desert.

If I do say so myself, we did a pretty good job for first-timers. We splurged on real Spanish chorizo and found mussels, scallops, and shrimp at our local market. We used the genuine saffron that’s been sitting in our cupboard for a while—and the rice ended up with the rich, yellow color it was supposed to.

I’ve found myself thinking about first-timers because of today’s gospel lesson. In it we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The first people he explicitly called into service were fishermen. These were people who spent their days catching seafood at the place where the desert meets the Galilean Sea—although they caught sardines and tilapia (also called St. Peter’s Fish), not scallops, mussels, and shrimp (which were considered unclean).

Out on the water, harvesting fish, these fishermen saw the full spectrum of life, in all its rich beauty. They were secure in their place in the economic food chain—until Jesus called them from the sea and invited them to participate instead in the spiritual food chain that he was putting into place.

That spiritual food chain would be focused on a hunger for God in the people around them, rather than the people’s need for physical nourishment. Fishing for people would require Jesus’ disciples to learn a different set of skills—and a different perspective on “catching” something. When they said “yes” to Jesus’ call to cast their nets elsewhere, they became first-timers, entering new waters, with little idea of what lay ahead.

Fortunately, Jesus provided for his new followers a roadmap, or a recipe of sorts. We call it the Sermon on the Mount, and it includes such classic lines as “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “You are the light of the world.” Listening to Jesus, those fishermen must have felt like fish out of water—at the same time that their hearts were catching fire.

Have there been times in your life when you’ve felt like a fish out of water, called into new experiences, becoming first-timers…again? How did you cope? What did you learn?

When we follow the recipe of the gospels, we learn how to catch people in the net of God’s love, and share God’s abundant riches of mercy and grace. I invite you to read the Sermon on the Mount this week and ponder Jesus’ recipe for the spiritual life. What elements are new to you? What elements can you live out in your sleep? What is in this sermon that might be missing from your personal recipe?


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In What Do You Immerse Yourself?

My weekly hikes are turning into wonderful opportunities for reflection and inspiration! This past week’s hike took place in an open space near Silver City called Boston Hill (because the area was owned in the early 1880s by the Massachusetts and New Mexico Mining Company), which today is home to a number of abandoned mines, volcanic rocks and, during monsoon season, a nice array of wildflowers. photo 2(4)One of the things that caught my attention, however, were these rocks, which had clearly completely encased rocks of a very different sort. Here, the lighter, softer rock has worn away, exposing the tougher, multi-colored rocks. Given the volcanic nature of the area, I found myself wondering if perhaps that lighter rock is volcanic ash, which settled around these other rocks and eventually encased them.

I also found myself remembering the little joke about the baby fish asking “Momma, what’s ‘water’?” Water being, of course, for fish what air is for humans: that ubiquitous element that surrounds us and is always touching us, that we breathe in and out, and that we cannot conceive of as anything apart from our experience of it. For literally thousands, perhaps millions, of years, those multi-colored rocks were completely encased in the lighter rock; if they had the ability to perceive, they would not have known there was an existence that did not involve the rocks in which they were encased.

That is, until the lighter rocks wore down or were flaked away, and the multi-colored rocks were—for them, “suddenly”—exposed to air, and wind-blown dust, and rain. An entirely new type of existence was forced upon them—in much the same way as fish caught on a line or in a net are suddenly exposed to air after a lifetime of only experiencing water.

All this led me to think about the experience of being immersed in God’s love. I believe it is very similar to our experience of air, and a fish’s experience of water. As the Psalmist says (139:5), “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” In Romans 8:38-39, Paul says “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Are you aware of being surrounded by that love of God? Are you ever conscious of breathing love in and out, just as you do air? Or are you most aware of love when you feel separated from it?

Do you know that God’s love comes to you via grace, and that you are immersed in it, whether you will it or not?

Besides air, and love, in what else do you immerse yourself? Are those things helpful, or harmful, to you?