Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Wealth and Hurricanes


A few days ago, I read this rather startling observation: “Jesus has more to say about money than about any other topic, including prayer.” I admit I was surprised to read this—and it goes to show how “down to earth” Jesus’ teaching really is. He understood where we would find ourselves tripping up, in the spiritual life—less often in our communication with God and more often in how we lived out our relationship with God in our daily lives.

IMG_6293 moneyIt does indeed seem that we need regular reminders about the potential and power of money to wreak havoc in our lives—and the risks inherent in making money into our reason, goal, security net, excuse…we all do it, in one way or another.

I have a client who is also a freelancer—in a different field. He sometimes comments, very wisely, about how we end up focused on our “first-world problems,” like not having enough hours in the day to get our personal website work done because we’re so busy with our paid work. He’s right. So many people around the world are focused on whether there will be enough food on the table tomorrow, or if there will be electricity tonight. Our websites would have absolutely no meaning if there was no electricity to power them; they literally would not exist.

How far we have come, it sometimes seems to me, from the very earthy images that Jesus uses to reconnect us with our Creator God. Perhaps that is why I often find myself returning to images of nature for my daily Instagram posts. Mother Earth has so much to teach us—including how little we can rely on our wealth.

Consider for a moment two events in this past week: Hurricane Maria and the earthquake in Mexico City. Both of these natural disasters had no regard for wealth or poverty. They shook us to our foundations, regardless of where we stand. Water flowed everywhere, power lines were whipped about, anything was picked up by the wind and flung down anywhere else. Natural disasters don’t care how much money you have.

At our best, we also don’t care how much money you have when it comes to responding to natural disasters. We see images of people gathering to help dig trapped people out of buildings in Mexico City and clear waterlogged debris in the Caribbean.

Wealth comes in many forms—not all of them material. And with great wealth—and here I would definitely include the great fortune of not being impacted by disaster—comes great responsibility. We who are living with our first-world problems have a responsibility to reach out to those who suddenly find themselves in third-world situations.

My husband Henry is a retired priest. He’s leaving on Tuesday to spend a couple weeks as a volunteer chaplain in Houston, which is still in the beginning stages of recovery from Hurricane Harvey. He has been invited to minister with people who are living in a pair of hotels, unable to return to damaged or destroyed homes, and to the FEMA staff who are working with them. He is called to listen, pray, encourage, and support them, in whatever ways the Holy Spirit reveals to him, and to them.

He’s also been asked to bring toiletries with him—these are evidently very difficult to come by at this point—but the primary wealth he’s bringing is his own groundedness in God. He is wealthy beyond measure, in this situation: he has a home in fine shape, enough money and a car to drive to Houston, and plenty of time available to give to those less fortunate. And God has called him to be a good steward of those resources, in part by sharing them with others.

What are your many forms of wealth? How are you called to share them?

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Toggle Back to God


The Centering Prayer group that I’m attending is opening lots of interesting avenues of thought and prayer in me. In addition to providing the discipline I need to show up for this type of prayer more frequently, I’m also reflecting on the experience of prayer, which I usually don’t do. Reflecting on something is not part of the prayer itself, but there is still much to be learned from noticing what does, and does not happen, in prayer.

img_3289Recently my reflections took the form of a poem. I’ve also been spending time with the Psalms, and Psalm 136 came to mind because of its repetition. Every other line of this psalm speaks of God’s mercy enduring forever. It’s the underlying theme of the psalm, and I found myself thinking of it as a recurrent reminder of God’s presence, beneath and within everything that happens. In “good” times and “bad” (all open to interpretation, of course!), God is there.

And then…I pondered the Centering Prayer instruction, when we are distracted or distressed, to “ever so gently return to your sacred word.” Putting it in today’s language, sitting at my computer, I found myself thinking of toggling back and forth between one thing and another, repeatedly returning to God when we wander away…and the poem was born.

May it inspire your own reflection on prayer and its role in your life.

 

Toggle Back to God

 

Websites weave animosity

Toggle back to God

Pundits peddle profanity

Toggle back to God

Television illuminates adversity

Toggle back to God

Sales pitches scream of scarcity

Toggle back to God

 

Formless fields of sunlight

Toggle back to God

Lake reflecting moon bright

Toggle back to God

Hand reached out to stop fight

Toggle back to God

Patience paid to set right

Toggle back to God

 

Fierce familial love fest

Toggle back to God

Springtime weave of bird nest

Toggle back to God

Striving now to do best

Toggle back to God

In contentment now rest

Toggle back to God

 

© 2016 Shirin McArthur

 


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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?