Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


Cataracts and Inner Vision

I’ve recently been diagnosed with a cataract in my left eye. Yes, I’m a bit young for cataracts, but evidently this isn’t an age-related cataract. It’s also not on the front of the eye’s lens, which is where most cataracts develop. My cataract has grown on the back of the lens, although I don’t have the risk factors usually associated with such a cataract. I guess I’m a medical mystery, or just one of the “lucky ones.”

I am lucky to have health insurance and to live in a first-world country in the 21st century. All those things mean that removing this cataract, probably in July, should be (God willing!) a straightforward and relatively simple procedure (your prayers are welcome). Reading up on cataracts, I’ve learned that they are the primary cause of blindness amongst my less fortunate sisters and brothers around the world. Over the years, I’ve received multiple pleas for donations from nonprofits that send medical care teams to third-world countries to perform cataract surgeries for some “lucky ones” who are thus able to regain their sight.

I must admit: For most of my life, I have taken my eye health for granted. This is despite having married a man who worked for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind for almost two decades, and having a very dear friend whose husband is slowly going blind from diabetes complications and who has a history of eye issues herself. This awareness has changed over the past few months, as I’ve sensed my vision growing cloudy and wondered about the cause. Certainly it was a relief to learn that the diagnosis was nothing more complex than a cataract.

My pondering also led me down an interesting path that is the reason for my choice to post on this topic. I found myself thinking about the fact that a cataract on the back of the eye is more unusual. It led me to wonder whether, at some deep, unconscious level, I am still struggling with my unwillingness to look within, face my fears, and live out my vocation. It’s a lifelong struggle for me—being afraid of success, rather than failure—and was one of the first topics about which I posted nearly four years ago. If I’ve spent a lot of my life running away from my inner vision—from what I knew, or sensed, that I was called to do—is it any wonder that, over time, my inward vision might have clouded up?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf we refuse to see, and embrace, the invitations issued by our souls, or by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, will we develop a blindness to the Spirit’s direction? I believe so. Whether it manifests in literal blindness is not the issue, nor am I proposing a literal, physical correlation. I am, however, positing a deeper-truth connection between the blindnesses we choose to embrace and our eventual inability to see what we have ignored, or run away from, for so long.

Are there cataracts developing on the lens of your inner vision? Are there deeper truths that you are ignoring or fleeing? Could you invite the divine surgeon to remove those cataracts so that you can see clearly and embrace your calling, or more clearly see the next step on your spiritual journey?



Trusting—One Day at a Time

After the upbeat tone of my blog last week, I sit writing this one in a rather different place. For one thing, all that’s happening in my life has led to my over-extending myself and I’ve caught a bug of some sort. This has meant I’ve had to step back from some obligations in order to rest because this weekend we are once again in Tucson, house-hunting.

House-hunting, however, has not been as straightforward as house-selling. We put in an offer after our first visit to Tucson, and it was rejected because it was contingent upon the sale of our house here. This is not that unusual—sellers prefer a transaction that’s not dependent on another one—but our reaction was still, naturally, disappointment. Then, last week, two of the houses we were most interested in viewing this weekend were gobbled up before we could even get to Tucson to take a look.

I told a friend of mine about what happened, and her response was, “Remember God’s fingerprints are already all over this process.” My response to her was, “Yes, God is truly all over this, which is part of what’s driving me nuts…why can’t I trust!?!?!? Sigh…. Maybe because I’m not feeling well….”

And that is a deep truth that bears remembering. Even when we know, in our heart of hearts, that in the big picture, all will be well, it can be difficult to live through the day-to-day process that gets us there. Whether it’s collecting boxes and beginning to pack up our belongings, IMG_1893spending hours assessing pictures and data for dozens of houses online, or trying to keep up with the flow of work in the midst of it all, adding a major change to an already-full life is not an easy task.

And so I’m trusting, sometimes more successfully than others. A year from now, I imagine being able to look back and see God’s fingerprints more clearly. Fortunately, in the meantime, I’ve got friends to hold me in prayer, to shine light on the bigger picture when I’m unable to take that wider view. I’ve done it for others, and I give thanks to God for those who are doing it for me now.

When have you been able to shine that light for others who are struggling? When have you been the recipient of the support of friends and loved ones during difficult seasons? Take a moment to give thanks to God for both the giving, and the receiving.


The Only Constant is Change

Henry and I have moved a lot over the years. In fact, in the 21 years we’ve been married, we’ve lived in nine different locations, ranging from a one-bedroom seminary apartment to a spacious adobe house. We’ve discovered that there are both advantages to moving often (you regularly get to purge your belongings) and disadvantages (it seems like every time I get a garden established, we move!). We don’t always plan to move so frequently, but it just seems to be the pattern of our life together.

When we moved into our current house, we both really felt that we were here to stay. In fact, Henry joked about only leaving here “in a box.” We love the rural setting, the birds and bees and deer and rabbits—even when they mess with the garden. We love hearing the sound of coyotes and owls at dusk, and the number of stars we can see on a clear night. DSC_5361We’ve also invested a lot of time, energy, money and love into this home, including this beautiful rock garden which is our back yard.

But I’ve learned to “never say never.” As someone first said decades ago, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Due to Henry’s health issues, we’re moving again. Limitations in his lung capacity mean that it’s time to live at a lower elevation. After some research and discussion, as well as prayer, we’re looking at somewhere in the Tucson area—just three hours from here—as our target destination. It takes us from 6000 feet to just over 2000, and he could feel the difference when we recently traveled there to purchase his first set of hearing aids. Sea level might be even better, but humidity, cold, and allergens are other factors that affect lungs and so Tucson seems to be a good compromise.

Naturally I’ve experienced a range of emotions over the weeks as this change has slowly become a reality in our lives. I’ve also realized that shifts in my life—whether they be related to home, work, or vocation—seem to occur in three-year cycles. I became a freelancer and we moved to this home in 2012, so it seems I’m due for another round of change.

It’s also important to notice that so many of those shifts have occurred as we followed the invitation of the Spirit. In 2003, Henry took an early retirement buyout from his job and went to seminary. In 2006, we moved to New Mexico in his pursuit of ordination. Our move in 2012 was also saying “yes” to an invitation to ministry here. Through each move, we’ve trusted that God is inviting us along a path that we don’t always see clearly. Looking back, I can see how richly we’ve been blessed, every step of the way. It’s not always been easy, but it’s been blessed.

And so, when I can rest in that trust, I am at peace with this move—even as the idea of putting all our belongings in boxes yet again feels quite daunting. I can even look forward to the possibilities ahead of us: new friends, new opportunities, a new house to make “home”—for however long we are blessed to live there.

(For those who are wondering about the practicalities, we have a mid-December close date on our house here—which went under contract before it even got on the market—and we are now looking for a house in Tucson.)

When have you trusted the Spirit’s invitation and stepped forward in faith? What happened? Are there any such invitations—large or small—being offered to you right now?


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Another Face in the Wood

Another thing that caught my attention during our time in California was the number of blackened and scarred trees. We see on television the powerful pictures of fire tearing through the drought-ridden California hillsides, but once the fires are over, they tend to fade from consciousness—at least for those of us in the rest of the country.

DSC_1088However, every time I drive through the Black Range in southern New Mexico, I am reminded of our own Silver Fire, 15 months ago, which left behind many similarly blackened and scarred trees. I usually don’t stop to take pictures, but last fall I did take a few, including this one at Emory Pass.

What caught my attention in California was a huge skeleton of a tree with a hollow center, big enough for me to stand inside if I had wanted to thoroughly blacken my clothing. Thriving nearby trees show that it’s clearly been a few years since this fire, but the occasional remnant remains, and once again (as during my retreat in April) I saw a face in the wood.

DSC_6393It’s rather animistic, and some would say unchristian, to say that I’ve found myself wondering whether these faces represent some element of the spirit of the tree…but I have thought about it. Is there any reason why God would not give a portion of the divine Spirit to other living beings besides humans? Certainly many Americans are convinced that their pets are possessed of a spirit as well as intelligence. Why would God not bless all creation equally, since Genesis tells us that God saw all creation as equally good?

When I look at the face at the top of this gnarled, scarred trunk, I sense a spirit crying out in anguish at the lick of flames and the heat of fire. It reminds me of the cries that I also imagine are emanating from Mother Earth as we continue to abuse her to feed our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, dig deep for precious stones and metals, and carelessly discard trash wherever we please. Surely this is not what God meant in Genesis 2:15 by “cultivate and care for it.”

Where in your own life to you see God’s creation crying out? What are you being called to do in response? What is your prayer for “this fragile earth, our island home”?