Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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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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Cultivating Hope and Embracing Opportunities


duck takeoff closeup DSC_5020This week marks five years since I left employment and became a freelance writer and editor, in addition to my ongoing work as a spiritual guide and retreat leader. I’ve been feeling for a few weeks now that I wanted to honor this milestone with a blog post, and I had an idea for the theme, but then Spirit intervened this past week and something else, quite transformative for me, arrived in my life instead.

The story begins with the first wave of my survey results, which have given me much to contemplate. I’m grateful and, at times, feeling a bit overwhelmed. One theme that has surfaced is the need for hope. To quote a few of my respondents on this theme:

“It’s easy to get lost in apathy and hopelessness as well as isolation.”

“How to help people (myself included) have hope again in this despairing time in our country and world.”

“Hope, like love, is the essential and most basic need for those of us who are awake and on this journey we call life. Especially in light of the current national and worldwide climate, so many people are on the edge of hopelessness, for good reason.”

One of the ideas that has surfaced in response to this theme is developing a podcast on hope. It feels timely, and necessary, and a response to the question of “What is mine to do?” as a result of last November’s election. I’d been letting that idea percolate in the back of my mind—and my heart—when my SCORE mentor sent me an email that announced an extension to the deadline for the YWCA Southern Arizona portion of the 2017 SBA InnovateHER challenge, suggesting that I apply.

I’d read about this challenge and seen billboards advertising it around town. It caught my attention, but I hadn’t felt I had anything to contribute. On Tuesday morning, I was writing some initial ideas for an article on contemplation and resistance (the theme of a forthcoming e-book from Ordinary Mystic) and then read an email from artist and spiritual guide Melanie Weidner, who was inviting some of her community to join her in “A Brave Opportunity” by recording and sending to her brief videos on the impact of her artwork. When I read my mentor’s email, it all came together: hope, podcast, a form of resistance that would work for me, the need to be brave and embrace opportunities….

The result, on this five-year anniversary of transformation in my life and ministry, is saying Yes! to the potential of another round of transformation. I have written my first—albeit small (the limit was 3200 characters!)—grant proposal and submitted it for consideration. I have put out there, publicly, my intention to enter the world of podcasting and also to expand my retreat offerings to focus on the subject of hope. There was a point where I was literally shaking as all this was coming together—as if the Holy Spirit was vibrating within me (or adrenaline was overwhelming my nervous system, but I choose to believe in the Spirit instead!).

When has the Spirit brought disparate elements together in your life to reveal something new? When has God invited you into a brave opportunity? Are you interested in being one of my interviewees on the Hope Podcast someday?

I would like to close today by inviting you to pray for all who are submitting proposals for InnovateHER. Here in southern Arizona, the next steps will happen very fast. If I am accepted to pitch my proposal, I’ll find out on Tuesday and the pitch sessions take place this coming Saturday, June 3!


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Leaving the Big Arena


One of the great gifts that comes with my work—and I know I’ve mentioned this before—is the opportunity to read what I edit. Whether it’s a teaching novel on church conflict or a mountaintop memoir of a life-changing religious experience, I am blessed to ponder and learn and grow through what I read. Recently I read an article for the latest edition of Oneing by a young woman, Alison Kirkpatrick, who was reflecting on raising feminist sons and daughters—and on the very different agendas that she and her age cohort are bringing to the conversation on gender equality.

This is what I read, and it blew me away:

Feminism of the sixties and seventies started down the path of trying to beat men at their own game by being even stronger and more aggressive. (We just have to look at the fashions of the eighties to know it’s true.) But many women of my generation disavowed feminism for that very reason. We got sick of trying to “out-alpha” the men, so we quit playing, which has really angered some long-time feminists.

But this isn’t a case of young women taking our ball and going home. We didn’t quit because we were losing; it’s because we woke up to the fact that the game’s not worth playing! We never got a say about the game in the first place. We didn’t help make the rules. We didn’t get to pick the venue or the referee. We didn’t get any input on how the points were scored or what determined the winner. The game was handed to us, with men favored at every turn. The second-wave feminists were so determined to get on the field that they were willing to get their teeth kicked in, over and over again, just for the privilege of playing the game. It was undoubtedly a necessary step, but a new generation of feminists is calling bullshit on the whole system. They are sick and tired of having to compete, succeed, and perform on every level: personally, professionally, physically, civically, spiritually, organically, etc., and then face criticism if they don’t meet some predetermined cultural standard.

Young women are “leaning in,” but not to the patriarchal, winner-take-all game. Even if it means never getting their turn in the big arenas (coincidentally, the ones men built), young feminists—of both genders—are trying to invent a new game, one where everyone can play to their own strengths.[1]

This entire segment of the article felt important when I read it, but what really got my attention was young women choosing not to try to prove themselves in the big, traditional arenas that males have built. I had not consciously realized that this is what I have been trying to do, over and over, time after time, in one way or another—until I was confronted with her words. They stopped me, stunned me, convicted me—and opened a window that I hadn’t known I was keeping closed.

For much of the past dozen years, as I have worked at “growing” my spiritual ministry in a variety of ways, I’ve had this mostly unconscious goal of trying to stand out on an increasingly global stage. My work for the Center for Action and Contemplation—whose founder, Richard Rohr, is indeed known around the world as a spiritual teacher—convinced me that this idea was possible, and watching the TED talks of well-known women like Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown made it seem like I could join those ranks.

dsc_5059cBut somehow, it just wasn’t happening…and now, I think I know why. In my heart and soul, I’m really not cut out to be such a public figure. I knew that—but my ego didn’t want to let go of this idea of rising to the “top” of my field. So now, thanks to Alison Kirkpatrick, I have a way to bend my mind around taking a different approach. I can consciously choose to walk away from the “race to the top” and instead recognize the many ways in which my ministerial strengths are already impacting the world, one relationship at a time. One-with-one relationships are really where I belong. I knew that, deep in my heart, but it’s going to take some time to reorient the rest of myself on this new pathway.

Some of this, I believe, is about trusting God, that all will work out when I am willing to let the Holy Spirit be in control of the agenda. And that’s another piece that I’m picking up from women like Alison Kirkpatrick: that believing and acting as if we are the one in control actually prevents us from living out our spiritual vocations in the world. It is when we let ourselves be moved and transformed by what we encounter—even a few words on a page—that God is able to transform the world through us, one simple, profound action at a time. Then we do not need the big arenas; each moment is the only arena that matters.

[1] Alison Kirkpatrick, “Raising a Feminist Son,” Oneing, Vol. 4 No. 2, 2016.