Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

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DSC_1881eDuring Holy Week this year, Henry and I took a turn holding vigil at church after the Maundy Thursday service. This is a tradition of taking turns “staying awake” overnight with Jesus, whose disciples fell asleep while he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–41).

I found myself thinking about the “big three” disciples who fell asleep when Jesus asked them to keep watch: Peter, John, and James. Then I wondered how the other disciples felt, having been left further behind in the garden. What were they doing? Did they fall asleep? Did they feel left out when Jesus took those three and went further into the garden—or were they happy to just be followers, hanging out in an olive garden on a warm spring night and talking about all the events of the past few days?

Andrew in particular came to mind, in part because of two churches named after St. Andrew that have factored into my life. There is one here in Tucson, where I was baptized at about nine months old, and there is one in Albuquerque, where I grew up and was confirmed. So I looked up references to Andrew on my cell phone (yes, I pulled out my cell phone while I was in church, but that’s where the handiest Bible concordance was to be found!). I found thirteen results. These include the usual ones about the listing of the twelve apostles, and that Andrew was Peter’s brother. Mark 3 says Andrew shared a home with Peter and his mother-in-law. Mark 13 has the “big four” (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) asking Jesus privately about when the Temple will be destroyed.

But the Gospel of John has more. John says that Andrew was one of two disciples of John the Baptist, who heard him say “That’s the man!” about Jesus and followed him. Andrew then went to find his brother, telling him they’d found the Messiah. Thus scripture makes clear that Andrew was already searching, seeking, repenting, presumably already baptized, before Jesus’ ministry even started. Andrew was already on the spiritual journey.

Andrew is also the one to point out that there are fish and bread available when Jesus asks Philip how the five thousand will be fed. Andrew notices, he speaks up, he finds a starting place. He forges a path for transformation.

A pivotal scripture passage in my life is John 12:20–22. Some Greeks come to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I encountered that phrase on a pulpit plaque in a church we were visiting when I was fourteen years old, and that idea of pointing the way to Jesus has become emblematic of my vocation. But as I re-read that scripture on Maundy Thursday, I found myself noticing the fact that Philip doesn’t immediately go and tell Jesus. Instead, he goes first to Andrew.

I wonder why. Perhaps it was because both Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida. Perhaps it was because Andrew was one of the “big four.” Perhaps it was because he knew Andrew would know how to handle the fact that these Greek gentiles wanted to speak to a Jewish rabbi.

The Greek Orthodox church names Andrew Prōtoklētos (Πρωτόκλητος), or the First-called—which makes sense if he was initially a follower of John the Baptist. So, if he was already—perhaps always—a seeker, did it bother him that Jesus didn’t include him in the “big three” that night in Gethsemane, or did he recognize that being singled out was not that important? Perhaps he wasn’t looking for a place beside Jesus “in his glory,” like James and John were. Perhaps being a follower was enough.

I’m still pondering Andrew. I think there’s more to learn here, from prayerful pondering on this disciple of Jesus. I invite you to ponder with me. Choose Andrew, or another of the disciples, or one the women who also followed Jesus. Who is speaking to you in this Eastertide, inviting you to dig more deeply into his or her experience with Jesus?



Hidden Viriditas

IMG_0949On our hike this past week, my friend and I once again visited Boston Hill. We even took a route we had traversed before—but saw new things this time. One thing that caught my eye was a tiny spot of green in the midst of the rock pictured on the left here. Can you see it?

On the right is a second picture, up close. IMG_0948Hidden within a natural hole in the rock, a pair of tiny green mosses have found a place to thrive in the midst of this desert landscape. I probably would have missed them completely if my eyes had not already been captured by a pair of dynamite or core-sample holes drilled in an adjacent rock.

As it was, I initially wasn’t certain whether I was seeing the green of a growing plant or of a green gemstone, hidden deep within the rock. While the moss is certainly less “valuable” in worldly terms, it’s still a valuable find for me, personally. It led to some ponderings, later that day, on Lent and the nature of the spiritual journey.

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after being baptized, and this is the reason there are forty days in Lent. The intention is that this time will be the equivalent of a yearly wilderness sojourn for each of us: a time to reflect upon, and deepen, our relationship with God. Disciplines such as fasting and praying, giving something up or taking something on, are meant to help us focus our awareness in this “wilderness” of our own choosing.

The hope is that each of us will find hidden gems on our Lenten wilderness sojourns. This hidden patch of moss is my gem this week. I’m reminded of the word viriditas, which the medieval abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen used to mean vitality, fecundity, lushness, and growth, which were for her the symbols of spiritual and physical health. To have found such a symbol, hidden within the wilderness in my own hometown, is a powerful indicator for me of the importance of the Lenten journey.

Have you found any hidden gems in your own Lenten wilderness? Where is viriditas appearing in your life at this time?