Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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Dying to Anger and Rising to Love

It’s still Eastertide, although many of us have moved on, in our hearts—back into “ordinary” time. Sometimes, though, I still find resurrection floating through my head in different ways. Other times, I find myself returning to holy week and the lessons I learned this year during those holy days.

One lesson that caught my attention during holy week was that Jesus stopped being angry once he was arrested. He was angry in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his disciples slept, and then when they sought to fight. But once he was arrested, it was as if the fight, the anger, drained out of him. He became completely passive to what was happening. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to regain his anger when he returns, resurrected. Something happened, in the harrowing of hell or the reconnection with Trinity, which enabled him to be firm, strong, loving…and no longer angry.

I wonder: Is there a place for letting go and letting what’s unfolding just happen—even if it leads to death? Did Jesus know, deep in his heart, that even his death would serve a larger purpose? Did he recognize or remember that every action we take speaks loudly—louder than a torrent of words possibly could?

We used to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Now all we seem to do in America is bludgeon each other with words. We are dying under a barrage of words. Video games also provide a way to live out the fantasy of doing violence to each other, and ourselves, over and over and over, but using words as weapons is perhaps a more insidious crime to all of Creation.

IMG_4621e Jesus wrappedMy mind also keeps returning to Joseph of Arimathea, buying a linen shroud and wrapping Jesus’ body in it (as illustrated in this image of a painted in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem). I think of the Shroud of Turin, which is not from Jesus’ time, but at this point is probably well steeped in holiness simply from believers’ association of this fragile cloth with Jesus’ body. It’s holy, as we are holy, having been steeped over and over again in Jesus through the bread and wine of Eucharist.

There is so much more to faith than the journalistic facts. We must move beyond literal words in this culture. We must reconnect with the deeper truths that infuse meaning in our lives. We must understand that praying in a place makes it holy: invites the Trinity, the Risen Christ, to infuse this fragile, suffering earth with resurrection light and eternal Love.

How will you issue that invitation to the Risen Christ today?


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On This Rock

DSC_8924One of the places that touched me most strongly in the holy land was this rock, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias and Lake of Gennesaret). This is the rock, according to tradition, where Jesus appeared to Peter and half a dozen of his other disciples, following his resurrection (this story is recounted in John 21). For me, touching this rock, leaning against it, I could look out upon the Sea of Galilee and imagine Jesus doing the same.

I could imagine Jesus building a fire on top of the rock, or in front of it, on a cool spring morning, as the sun rises over the lake. I could imagine him, watching small fishing boats out on the lake. I could imagine him, calling out to the disciples, asking if they had yet caught any fish. I could see him suggesting that they throw their nets on the other side of the boat. I could imagine him watching, perhaps with amusement and compassion, as his disciples follow his suggestion and find their nets full to the breaking point.

I could also imagine Jesus and Peter, sitting on this same rock, after breakfast, talking about love, and about tending Jesus’ flock. Peter has got to realize, by now, that things are different. I don’t know whether Jesus looked different or sounded different, but the very facts of denial, death, and resurrection had changed their relationship. Peter looked at Jesus differently, and I imagine that Jesus, following the crucifixion, viewed his disciples differently as well.

I see this conversation about feeding sheep as a way for Jesus to help Peter find a way forward. Last week I talked about Mary’s struggle to comprehend the fact of resurrection. Peter also has to undergo an internal, spiritual transformation in order to comprehend the meaning, and the impact, of resurrection on his own life.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The name Peter means rock, so Jesus is playing with words, but also tapping into an underlying truth. He knows that Peter is impulsive and passionate, always ready to speak and sometimes quick to argue. But he also knows that this deep passion and facility with words will be important gifts that a religious leader needs. He reminds Peter to balance these gifts with love for the disciples that will come under his care.

Perhaps naturally, later generations of Christians took Jesus’ words literally and built a church upon this rock. I don’t think Jesus would be dismayed by this. I do think he would be dismayed, however, if we stayed inside the church building and didn’t come out to lean against the rock and watch the fishing boats. I think he would be dismayed if we didn’t point out where tired, frustrated fishers might find fish. I think he would be dismayed if we didn’t build fires and offer freshly baked bread and grilled fish to the hungry. I think he would be dismayed if we didn’t balance our impulsiveness and passion with compassion and love.

What are you called to do “on this rock”? How are you called to balance passion and love?

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Behold I Make All Things New

Last Sunday I visited St. Michael and All Angels church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like the church of my childhood that I mentioned a few weeks ago, this church has grown immensely since I was a child, from a small adobe sanctuary to the sprawling, active campus it is today. I love their bright, airy, New Mexican-themed worship space—and was surprised by an Eastertide addition when I arrived last Sunday. IMG_1539cLiterally hundreds of origami butterflies adorned the sanctuary, floating in the air, clustered around the cross, alighting on a huge, translucent banner that hung in front of the organ pipes. Because they “die” in the “tomb” of the chrysalis and emerge as radically changed creatures, butterflies have long been a powerful symbol of resurrection. (As a child, when my birthday fell on Easter, I was given a beautiful butterfly pendant with the body of a cross, and it remains one of the most meaningful gifts of my life.)

Like the banners at St. Andrew, the butterflies brought me to tears, but for different reasons. I think that part of what impacted me was the communal nature of this witness to the resurrection. Each origami butterfly was clearly handmade. They were different sizes, different colors, and each slightly different, although clearly modeled on the same pattern. I found myself imagining the entire congregation gathering together to create these, generations working collectively to teach the folding sequence, create the butterflies, string them together, then hang them in the church.

I also find myself thinking about the long history behind origami, which has been practiced in Japan for hundreds of years. I’ve seen, in person, the thousands of origami cranes that adorn the Nagasaki memorials—a clear call for peace in a place literally obliterated by war. Origami cranes continue to be created, around the world, to symbolize the need for peace today.

Many people are afraid of what they see as syncretization in the church—especially when they believe it involves the incorporation of elements from other religious traditions. Those who believe that contemplative prayer is Buddhist simply don’t know their Christian religious history, as contemplative prayer harkens back at least as far as the Desert Mothers and Fathers in fourth-century Egypt.

I, on the other hand, believe that the encounter with other traditions strengthens us. When we enter into sincere dialogue with another, seeking to learn and grow from the wisdom we each have to share, we must reaffirm where we stand, and be willing to be challenged and changed by the wisdom of the other. These opportunities also provide us with the chance to imagine and manifest our own faith in new ways—as these origami butterflies boldly proclaim. Just as butterflies no longer resemble caterpillars, so authentic spiritual life today does not always resemble the faith of our forebears. The Holy Spirit is always making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Where have you experienced God making things new in your spiritual life?


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Easter Flowers

I have some pretty strong memories of Easter lilies. This vivid white symbol of resurrection was an integral part of Easter in the church where I grew up. When I was a teen, we kids were assigned the task of running into a nearby room during the Easter Vigil, just as the resurrection was being announced, and running back into the sanctuary with pots of lilies in our hands to place around the communion table as the lights came up and the choir sang. All these years later, I’m still getting teary-eyed writing this….

But some of those memories also have to do with lily pollen, which is pretty strong and causes allergic responses in many who sit in church pews—myself included. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember being thrilled when someone at that church showed me how you could pull out the pollen pods, just after the lily flower opened and before the pods turned themselves inside out to spread their magical, misery-causing scent.

This past week I’ve been watching the flowers that have appeared in my own yard. I’ve enjoyed the scent of round yellow Mahonia flowers, and celebrated the appearance of peach blossoms on the tree I planted last fall. I’ve also been pleased to see that a few brave tulips have survived to blossom, because the past two years they were eaten by deer long before anything had a chance to flower.

IMG_1203I believe that one reason the tulips have survived this year is that I chose not to cut back the tall, dead stems from last year’s globe mallow wildflowers, which have grown up amidst the bulbs in my flower bed. While many here treat globe mallows as weeds, I allowed them to commingle with my bulbs to give summer-long color to the flower bed. I figured that they had a place, and a role to play. I thought that place and role had to do with summer color—but when the tulips began to appear early this spring, and weren’t immediately eaten, I put two and two together and realized that the deer likely weren’t interested in trying to eat tender bulb shoots that were surrounded by tall, spiky sticks that must smell as unappetizing as the live plants do. In this way, the dead are protecting new life in my garden bed.

To me this is a wonderful symbol of Easter and resurrection. New life would not survive to flower in this corner of my garden without the “assistance” of death in the form of last summer’s flower stems. There cannot be resurrection without death. The two go hand in hand, in our own lives as well as the life of Jesus.

Where in your life has death actually helped to protect or foster new life?



Peacocks and Resurrection

Happy Easter, everyone! While on my recent retreat I learned that peacocks are traditionally connected with resurrection, because each year the males shed their brightly colored feathers and grow new ones in a “resurrection” of sorts. That makes them a particularly appropriate subject for meditation on this Resurrection Sunday.DSC_2000

I enjoyed coming across members of Holy Trinity Monastery’s flock of 6 peacocks and 3 peahens during my time there. Their calls, however, are not nearly as lovely, and occasionally their scream-like sounds would startle me out of a prayerful state…or a doze! I found them roosting just about anywhere during the day, including a long, narrow flower bed that fit a peacock’s tail perfectly!DSC_2086 flowerbed crop

Pondering peacocks, I find myself thinking about Jesus’ interactions with his followers after his resurrection. In many cases, they did not recognize Jesus when he first appeared to them—think about Mary Magdalene in the garden, and the three men on the road to Emmaus. Even once their eyes were “opened” to see that it was Jesus, there’s no record that he looked in any way special to them—in fact, he looked so much the same that he still had the nail marks on his hands. The peacocks also don’t seem to look any different once they’ve grown their new feathers.

Yet Jesus was radically transformed by his death and resurrection—in ways that the gospels are barely able to put into words. Resurrection is both amazing, and amazingly subtle. The transformation that took place within Jesus was not something his followers could see, or sense. Yet the fact of resurrection had the power to utterly transform his life, and it has the same power to transform our lives and our priorities—if we are willing to allow it.

What kinds of transformation, if any, have you experienced as a result of Jesus’ resurrection? Did it change your outward appearance in any way, or was the transformation a more subtle, inner one?

What in your life needs to experience the power of resurrection, today and in the days ahead?