Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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What We Put Aside


Recently I’ve found myself pondering the various writing-project ideas that I’ve generated over the years. A couple weeks ago, I decided to see if I could gather them all into one place, one list. I started going through various electronic files and discovered that I could list twenty different ideas that resided in my computer or my head (and I still haven’t dipped into the older paper files in my office!). In the process I discovered that, in some cases, significant work had been undertaken to bring those ideas to fruition. When I shared this fact with one friend of mine, her response was, “That means you’re a writer.”

DSC_3031 invert hue flashlight heal brush darkerThat may well be true. It also means I haven’t always been very faithful to my craft. I’ve let a lot of ideas linger in obscurity for a lot of years. Admittedly, some of them probably don’t need to see the light of day—or at least they don’t seem worthy of attention at this point. Others, however, I find of great value, here and now—worth my attention, my effort, to see if I can, at some level, bring them into the light.

Part of the reason I’m looking to do this is that I am finally actively working with someone on the development of a website. We have a rough draft of a home page “mocked up” and we’re talking about offerings that I might share with my various communities, including you—readers of my blog. I actually have already drafted a free ebook that I will offer when the website goes live, as an incentive for people to connect with me and engage with more of my spiritual reflections—my prayerful pondering.

One of the gifts of dipping back into the various writing projects I’d put aside was discovering that, in the months leading up to when I finally started blogging, I had, in essence, begun honing the craft. I’ve spent time this past week re-reading a series of meditations on the life of prayer and discovering that they are just as relevant today as they were four years ago…and that they do contribute to what I have to offer. Some of them, in fact, may make an appearance on this blog in the coming months.

Others are likely to form the backbone of an ebook in which I ponder the exercise of prayer from the perspective of photographer and observer. We’ll see; it’s still unfolding, but a draft introduction flew off my fingers this week, which to me is a sign that the Spirit is at work in bringing to light what has dwelt too long in darkness. (I also found myself awake at 3 am one morning, beginning to think through the tax-gathering and filing consequences of moving from offering only services to offering goods as well!)

I may never know all the reasons why I’ve let these ideas languish, although I have some theories. What feels important to me at this point is that there is gold, in the form of lived-and-learned wisdom, buried in the darkness. It needs to be brought into the light. It is part of my calling at this stage in my life. I am trusting that God will guide me, lead me, so that what I have to offer may be of value to those who walk the spiritual path, serve others, and seek to bring hope to a world in need of Good News.

What parts of yourself, your wisdom, your experience, have languished in the darkness? How might you be called, in this season, to bring that precious gold into the light?

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Reconnecting with Joy and Laughter


Last weekend I led a pair of workshops for a women’s retreat at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson. The keynote speaker, Lesley Abrams, is both a clergywoman and a comedienne, and she certainly had us laughing. She also had us focused on reconnecting with joy, and that lightheartedness has stayed with me over the week.

img_3421The weather has also cooled off enough that Henry and I have started walking again in the mornings. Some of the things that have reconnected me with joy and laughter this week are the various ways our neighborhood families are decorating their houses and yards for Halloween. This is my favorite so far, being more creative than most. It’s also a reminder to me that laughter can erupt out of the very earth if we will just bend our minds in that direction….

I tend to be a pretty serious person. As this blog aptly illustrates, I think deeply and widely, focus on making spiritual connections, and generally ponder the weighty matters related to finding meaning in life. And—this week I’m being reminded of the need for balance in my life: for laughter, joy, dance, and beauty.

One of the places I’m finding beauty right now is not in autumn leaves (the only plant around here that seems to put on a bit of autumn color is the ocotillo, whose leaves turn yellow and drop off when the weather dries out). Instead, the desert is again—or still—in bloom. I’ve not previously thought about autumn as the season for blossoms, but that’s another way that life is different in the Sonoran Desert. (If you want to see photos of the various blooms I’m encountering this week, I invite you to follow my Instagram feed, or catch them on Facebook.)

If you are also one of those people who tends to think deeply and seriously, I invite you to seek lightheartedness this week. All the children out trick-or-treating tomorrow provide a great opportunity (if you live in the US) to reconnect with the lighthearted joy of young children. Fall festivals and carnivals provide other opportunities for joy and laughter. And if you tend toward lightheartedness naturally, thank you for providing those opportunities for people like me to lighten up! May my other posts help you find some serious balance in your daily life.


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Reclaiming the Writing Life


This weekend I’m attending another writers workshop—this one in my new home territory of Tucson. I just learned about it a couple of weeks ago, and learned at the same time that it was the last annual event because the organizer is retiring from the work. I’m sad that no one is taking it on, because it’s clearly been a good event for those who have attended, now and in prior years…but I’ve also learned that I have to let that go. In earlier years, I might have pondered whether this was something that I should get involved with. After all, it has benefited lots of people, myself included. But it doesn’t align with my own mission and vision at this point, and I’ve learned that it’s well past time for me to make that my primary focus.

You see, I let go of writing poetry for a lot of years in order to focus on other things. I spent a lot of years working for organizations that needed my administrative skills to further their own missions. But, as a result of all that work for others, my own writing vocation—as I’ve come to recognize it—has languished.

As I began to recognize earlier this year, and expressed out loud when I made my Lenten commitment to write poetry, it is time to reclaim the writing life. I need to accept—even embrace—that the written word is one way in which I am called to make a difference in the world. This blog helped me to recognize that. My poetry is likewise calling to me, aching to be shared and used as a vehicle for spiritual growth, both for myself and others. It doesn’t matter that it’s a tough time out there for poets. (I learned this weekend that there aren’t agents for poets because there’s so seldom any money to be made with poetry!) It honestly can’t matter that I may not publish a poetry collection. I need to write poetry because it helps focus my own soul work. Perhaps I will share more of it on this blog here. The point is, if I need to write it for myself, and as part of what I am feeling called to do and share, then that is enough.

I also need to recognize that everything I have done can feed into what I am doing now. Certainly my life experience and spiritual growth feed the words that I write, here and in my poetry. But even the less obvious influences are real. IMG_2800cLast year I participated in a card deck swap, where a bunch of us created artistic, inspirational cards, sent them off to the organizer, and then received a mix of cards from other people in return. Was it part of my own mission and vision? Not precisely—but the process did get me thinking creatively. And what I received in return has been a gift. Today, two of those cards are speaking to me, as I think about this post, and so I share them here. One of these came to me all the way from Australia! I do indeed need to share my voice; it is a God-given gift!

Is there something in your own life that has languished while you have focused on other things? At this point, it doesn’t matter why you have not tended your gift. It only matters that, at this point in your life, you ask yourself, and God, what it might take to reclaim that part of who you are. Who needs to hear your voice, experience your art, receive your ministry? What is it you need to do in order to more fully live out your soul’s calling, your vocation in this life? What step might you take today, to recommit to that part of yourself and your calling?


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Putting God’s Work First


Last week I talked about a major spiritual shift that is occurring in my life. After many months of feeling that my ministry was lying fallow and ideas were scarce (during which time I survived a major move and completed lots of editing work, so it wasn’t as if I was bored!), spring has arrived in my spiritual life and new ideas are sprouting.

IMG_1449 cropBut moving into this season of inspiration doesn’t mean that my “work” is over. Just as with a garden, I must tend these inspirations, nurture them, so that they thrive, grow, manifest and bear fruit. One of the ways I am doing that is with my Lenten commitment to write poetry six days a week (since Sundays are not part of Lent, I’m giving myself that day of rest each week). Giving time and space to inspiration in my life is key to nurturing what is coming forth—especially since my Lenten weeks will also be busy, with lots of editing work, a week-long family visit, and some long-awaited vacation time.

Another inspiration that came to me on Ash Wednesday morning was the return to an old habit of putting spiritual work first in my daily routine. During the fallow months (Is this an excuse? Perhaps….), I would arrive at my computer in the morning and dive right into my editing work for the day. I’d take a break for contemplative prayer later in the day (a chance to sit in the sun and give my body a break), but otherwise, to keep up with demand (I told myself), I would work straight through until dinner time (except for meetings and errands and such).

But I know from experience that the most fruitful time of day for me is morning. It is when I do my best work—and while giving that best time to my clients is good for my perfectionistic tendencies (and editors must, by nature, be detail-oriented perfectionists!), it’s not necessarily good for my spiritual life. So a part of my commitment for Lent (and beyond, I hope) is to put God’s work first each day, so that I am taking best possible advantage of this season of inspiration.

Another way that I am putting God first is by inviting some of you along in this season of inspiration. One of the things I’ve learned in my work with SCORE is the importance of gathering a small group of “customers” who become, in essence, beta-testers for early versions of my product. As readers of my blog, you are already my “customers.” If any of you would be interested in being part of a group that receives, participates in, and honestly responds to, early versions of the online retreat work I mentioned last week, please let me know. I expect it will be a few months before anything reaches that stage, but part of asking others to accompany me on this journey is to create a structure for accountability, to keep me moving forward with what, at moments, feels like a rather daunting task!

And for those who do not feel called to be beta-testers, you are welcome to pray that this work will be fruitful, giving glory to God and grace to everyone who will be fed by it. Thank you.

When in your own lives have you recognized a need to put God first? How did you do that? What were the spiritual fruits of that season?


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Hanging Out in the Light


Last weekend I helped lead an event at Holy Cross Retreat Center. The days were long and full, which meant that we were traipsing about between buildings long after nightfall. The retreat center is located near an acequia, or irrigation ditch, which is used to water the pecan groves which surround it. This meant that I saw something I have seldom seen since I lived near the Rio Grande River as a child: toads.

IMG_1613Every night we noticed large toads hanging out by the lights which illuminated the various pathways. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were there because the lights attracted bugs, which became dinner for the toads. Smart toads.

As I reflected on those toads, it led me to wonder what lights I frequent. Do I hang out where I will be nourished? I hang out in my garden, which is already providing me with lettuce, cilantro, chard, and onions, and promises to provide much more as the season progresses. The garden also provides me with ideas and images that are food for my spiritual life, and sometimes end up in my blogs.

There are other lights in my life, including a series of free online artist interviews I’m listening to right now. The various artists are sharing some of the wisdom of their craft and their own experiences. By hanging out in their light, I’m helped to make connections with my own spiritual and creative life, and gain some new ideas for living out my own ministry.

Another light in my life is Embodied Prayer worship. I end many of my Embodied Prayer sessions with a sacred circle dance called The Source, where we take the source (whatever that might mean in a particular moment: love, peace, God, Jesus, light, inspiration), gather it to our hearts, and then share it with the world. It’s a powerful way to close our worship session because it reminds us that this experience is not just meant to nurture us and connect us with God, but also to help us spread God’s love to the world.

IMG_1620What lights do you frequent? Where do you hang out and gain nourishment? It might be reading scripture and spiritual books, walking in nature, singing in the choir, teaching the next generation…. What else comes to mind?

Are there lights that you no longer frequent, but that still tug at your heart? Might it be time to seek out those lights again?