Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Testifying to the Light

I’m spending these closing weeks of the year taking a mental step back from being “in the thick of things” with my work and ministry. I’ve felt overwhelmed at various times this year and, as I’ve noted, not everything has “worked out” as I imagined or hoped it would. I would like to feel more “in sync” with my work and ministry in 2018, so I am intentionally taking time to reflect, listen, pray, and ponder.

Some images and ideas are arising as a result. Interestingly, perhaps in part because of the work I’ve been doing for the online Advent retreat, the role of John the Baptist has been coming to mind. John 1:6–9 says that John the Baptist came to “testify to the light” that was coming into the world. It also says clearly that John was not the light; his job was to testify—to tell others about that Light of Christ.

Layout 1I’m finding this understanding to be in quite stark contrast to the marketing and business-growth information that I’ve received through multiple channels as I’ve worked to grow my business and ministry over the years. Everything is about getting your brand, your name, out in front of people, in an increasingly overcrowded market and cacophonous online world.

One of the realities that is arising to my awareness is a sometimes-overwhelming sense of exhaustion, perhaps from all that work of putting myself and my brands out there. I do have some results to show for it—but as I look back upon my expanding editing and writer-coach business, most of that expansion has come through word of mouth and connections, rather than any explicit marketing that I’ve been doing. It’s been less about me and more about how I’ve “showed up,” been present, and the quality of the work I’ve done.

I find it ironic that, for a handful of reasons, I still don’t have a live website—although one has been in the works for much of the year now. Perhaps it will be live by the end of the year. Despite that lack of what most marketers would consider a fundamental element of my business, I’m still getting work and opportunities are still arising.

I choose to believe this has happened because of the work of the Spirit. Because I consider my editing and writer-coach work to be a ministry, I believe that the Spirit is guiding that work, so that others can benefit from the gifts and skills given to me by God. It’s not about me—in that ultimate sense—and that’s how I’m making the connection with John the Baptist.

My work is not about me. In what I do most authentically, I am testifying to the Light of the World. My work is about assisting and supporting the work of my clients. God is blessing that ministry, and I am grateful.

Where in your life are you called to testify to the Light of the World?



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?

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Catching Fire

Today is Pentecost. As a child, I was taught that this was the Birthday of the Church, and I remember birthday cake at coffee hour and red streamers hanging from the tall Ponderosa pine trees at the front of the church building.

Like many of our religious festivals, Pentecost has multiple layers to it. Acts 2 begins by saying, “When the day of Pentecost had come,” which means that it already existed as a festival on that day. Pentecost was originally an Israelite spring harvest festival; the word Pentecost is the Greek term for the Jewish word Shavuot. The Christian church co-opted the name, applying it to remember the day when tongues of fire “rested on” Jesus’ disciples and they began to speak in different languages.DSC_0486e

Remember that these disciples were from the Galilean countryside. The idea that such provincial, uneducated people could suddenly speak multiple languages is part of what made this day stand out for the first generations of Christians. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon them: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can well imagine that they had no clue what this would mean and how the Holy Spirit would manifest to them. Jesus had always been full of surprise and mystery; would the Holy Spirit be any different?

I found myself thinking that, in a sense, this spring harvest festival, this Pentecost, is celebrating the harvest of Jesus’ work with his disciples. His years of teaching, in Galilee and in Jerusalem, bore fruit in the form of tongues of flame that did not burn. (I do wonder if the disciples’ first thoughts were of Moses and the burning bush!) Interestingly, the disciples’ responses were not filled with confusion and questions, as had been the case with so many conversations recorded in the Gospels. Instead, Peter speaks out boldly, proclaiming the message of Jesus’ resurrection and connecting this event with sacred scripture, exactly as Jesus had done, time and time again in his ministry.

“You heard it was said…now I say to you” was a hallmark of Jesus’ teaching. Peter and the other disciples now take on that mantle, spontaneously speaking in the languages of those who need to hear the Good News and seamlessly connecting their message with Hebrew scripture.

The disciples are the fruit of Jesus’ ministry. They are now catching fire—the kind of fire that lights up souls rather than burning bodies. That fiery fruit generates its own harvest on Pentecost: Luke tells us that over 3,000 people were baptized that day, joining the disciples in following Christ.

When in your life have you caught fire? In what ways has the Holy Spirit transformed your life, burned away the confusion, and emboldened you to preach the Good News? How are you the harvest fruit of Jesus’ ministry?


P.S. My proposal was not accepted into the next round of InnovateHER, but I will move forward with hope nonetheless. The Holy Spirit lit a fire in me, and I will do my best to help hope catch fire in our troubled world.



Listening to My Constituents

Those of you who have been following me for a while will know that I’ve been pondering what I’m called to do in response to the changes happening in this country. While many expressed surprise at the US election results last November, those results speak to underlying issues that have been developing for a while. Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight.

IMG_5156In this Eastertide, as spring blossoms around me with the energy of new life, I am ready to take my own next steps in this process. I am working with the woman (and her team) that designed my logo, dialoguing about what I can offer, online and in person, to support the spiritual people I serve through my various ministries. As I pondered back in Advent, what and who am I for?

The answer is that I am for you: the people who read my blog and find support here for the work you are doing, the ministries you are living out, the people you are serving.

Rather than assuming that I know what you want and need, today I am asking. I want to listen to you, my spiritual constituents. I am requesting your feedback, as outlined in the letter below. So please read on, and please respond. I want to know how best to serve you, to support you.

Dear Friends,

The past year, both in the US and abroad, has increasingly been filled with challenges for people of faith. These trends in particular have raised concerns for me, and may also have for you:

  • The wars and number of refugees around the world have exploded and stable countries are closing their doors to those who have lost homes, families, and—often—hope.
  • Rising political leaders are tapping into racism, xenophobia, and many other -isms that lurk beneath the façade of “civilized” societies, revealing that we still have a lot to learn about how to love all our neighbors.
  • There are many levels of uncertainty about what effect the current political realities will have on those we care for and serve, be they students or workers, parishioners or seekers, elders or children, wealthy or impoverished.

These are just a few examples of what we and our communities are facing as we minister to those in our midst, formally and informally—or when we turn to God in prayer, asking what we are called to do, individually and collectively, in this season of change and challenge.

It is in this context that I am prayerfully discerning how to provide evolving support for spiritual leaders like you. As someone whose lifelong call has been “ministry to ministers” (whether lay or ordained), I’m hoping that my ministries can provide helpful tools for spiritual leaders and faithful followers—tools that assist your response to the emerging demands of our times, while also nourishing your heart and spirit to persevere in your service.

With this guiding mission, I am asking trusted friends and colleagues for input on a new digital platform of offerings I am developing. What is missing in your system of support? What do you need in order to keep bringing hope to the hopeless, trust to the doubting, courage to the fearful? I’m curious about how I might serve you, in person or through online portals (classes, webinars, etc.).

Some of my questions and ideas are listed below. Others are more visual in nature and hard to explain, so they will need to be viewed in their draft form for feedback at a later time. I would love your thoughts on these questions, as well as your feedback on what, if anything, you would add to this list.

  • What resources and personal practices do you turn to for personal inspiration? What helps you get in touch with your creative wellspring? Possibilities include poetry, prayerful reflections and meditations, music, videos, etc.
  • What are the best ways for you to receive these inspirations? Possibilities include emails, podcasts, videos, webinars, books (hardcopy, ebooks, and/or audiobooks), etc.
  • Are you utilizing “mobile” listening, via smartphone apps or connecting your phone to your car’s sound system?
  • Are you drawn to online webinars, lectures, conferences, and retreats for your personal development experiences, or do you largely prefer to invest time with in-person retreats, inspirational talks, and films? Or are you finding yourself drawn to a mixture of both online and in-person?
  • Do you prefer to access online events live and interact with the presenters, and/or do you wish them to be flexible, so you can access them when your schedule permits?
  • Are you interested in mentorship for creative writing, speaking, retreat planning, or other forms of spiritual leadership?
  • Does the idea of participating in an online circle of trusted peers feel attractive to you? Would you be interested in peer-to-peer discussions on common challenges, in the form of web-based call-in meetings or video conversations?
  • What are the particular issues that have become more acute during recent times, for which you’d appreciate accessing support?
  • Would you be interested in reviewing and giving feedback in a few months on a “beta version” of this unfolding digital platform of offerings?

Any and all feedback and ideas are deeply appreciated as I take this exciting next step in my ministry journey.

I welcome your response in any form that’s easiest for you. If you like, just copy and paste your feedback into an email and send it to me at If it would be easier to talk in person about this, rather than writing, email me and let’s schedule an appointment.

It would be most helpful for me if I can receive your response within the next two weeks, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your thoughts if it takes a bit longer than that.

I thank you for taking the time to help me discern how best to serve you in this season.


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Revisioning My SMART Goals

dsc_9647cLast week I reflected on how Alison Kirkpatrick’s Oneing article has pushed me to reconsider my understanding of success (and its arenas) on a very basic level. I realize, at a deeper level, that my ministry is not aimed at a national-level stage, or even the “thousand true fans” that are supposed to be enough to “make a living” in this social media-oriented world. Instead, I accept that I can—and already do—make a significant difference in the spiritual life of those I am gifted to know, one relationship at a time.

But fifty years of cultural indoctrination will not evaporate from my brain overnight—especially since the messages keep coming. It feels to me like we’re constantly being told that there’s just one way to succeed, and it has to do with volume: how far we reach, how much product we sell, how much money we make. This shift from thinking about quantity to recognizing the value of quality will take some time.

I’ve already taken some steps. I still have goals, but I have dropped one of my three SMART Goals in order to pick up another—to live more fully into the Holy Land travel opportunity that Henry and I will, God willing, experience in January (I’ve shared a few more prayerful reflections on that journey on the Ordinary Mystic blog). Another SMART goal has been pushed back because the right collaborator has not yet come along—and I’m trusting God that there is a right collaborator, thus again choosing to focus on quality.

I have also reframed what SMART actually means in my life. No longer does SMART stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (although there will still be times when those attributes matter). Now it stands for Spirit-led, Manageable, Accountable (to God), Realistic, and (ultimately) Transitory. These attributes mirror my vocation and my calling, which is ministry to ministers—which is each one of us who loves others on the “frontlines” of life.

What might be some SMART goals in your life? Where are you called to be Spirit-led and Accountable, take on tasks that are Manageable and Realistic, while also accepting the Transitory nature of what you’re invited by God to be doing?

Can you trust God to hold the larger picture?


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Expanding Ministry

Everyone’s connected but no one is connecting
The human element has long been missing
Tell me, have you seen it?

—Armin van Buuren, “Alone”

This EDM song caught my attention shortly after it came out. The message is a pretty strong indictment of the down side of electronic communications—the element of human connection is missing in much of what is sent out over the electronic airwaves these days. Certainly the amount of vitriol and “dissing” of others shows a fundamental lack of awareness of the human souls on the receiving end of so many tweets and blogs.

However, there are also definite advantages to electronic communication. Most of my income is earned remotely, and everything would certainly take longer if all the documents I edit and articles I write had to be sent to clients via snail mail. I smile when I find myself wondering what my grandparents would think of the idea that I am willing to receive and make payments with money that I never see except on a computer screen!

DSC_1192In late April I attended the annual conference of Spiritual Directors International. This year, SDI’s conference was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico—a mere(!) 5.5 hours’ drive from my home. I also helped prepare for the conference, gathering photographic images of sacred spaces in New Mexico to be woven into electronic slide shows displayed throughout the weekend. Many of the images I gathered were transmitted to me via email, and all of them were passed on to SDI electronically.

It was the first time in probably 15 years that I had attended the SDI conference in person, and one of my major take-aways was the energy of connecting, face to face, with literally hundreds of other spiritual guides. Listening to their stories, sharing hard-earned wisdom and lingering questions, I experienced a deep sense of connection that I believe comes from sharing space and experiences together.

I also eagerly attended the workshop of a young woman whose spiritual guidance ministry is conducted exclusively via email, phone, and Skype. I was very interested in the experience and wisdom she had to share, as I am pondering my own next steps into spiritual ministry in an electronic world. Then, a few days ago, I conducted my own first spiritual guidance session via Skype.

This is a strange new world for some people, and the only known world for others. Where are you on that spectrum? Does the concept of electronic communication and ministry leave you feel disconnected, or connecting? Is God inviting you into any new communication pathways?