Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


A New Perspective on Christ’s Coming

One of the gifts that arrived in my freelancer inbox a few weeks ago was an invitation to write for the Loose-Leaf Lectionary. One of the awesome things about writing for them is that the assignments come a year in advance, so I’m writing about the seasons I’m currently experiencing. It’s been such a blessing to delve more deeply into scripture and make some new and interesting connections. Since the reflections are my own (and will be credited as such), I can see some of those ideas showing up here, in my blog posts. Last week was one such example, and this week is, too.

One of the daily office readings in the last week of Advent was from the Song of Solomon. It surprised me to encounter it in Advent…and led me to think about how limiting our viewpoint of anticipation of Christ’s coming tends to be. As we approached our commemoration of Jesus’ nativity, I bet most of us tended to focus either on the baby in the manger or the triumphant Messiah returning to inaugurate “a new heavens and a new earth.” And yet…Christ is so much more than either of those images. Christ comes to us as teacher, mentor, stern judge, fellow sojourner—and also as lover, as we hear in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon.

DSC_0025 cloister window 2“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills…. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.” Here, he is in the prime of life—and who could argue but that the resurrection is the prime of life!—and he peers through the windows and shutters of our bedroom bower, seeking to be invited in.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.… The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance…. In the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice.’” He calls us to come away from hiding behind shutters, safe in our accustomed spaces, and run with him in the wilderness. He calls us to experience the hidden crevasses of safety that can be found in even the most challenging of cliff-face climbs. He invites us to join him, out in the world, where figs and flowers will delight us and his company will enrich our lives immeasurably.

Psalm 33:3 encourages us to sing a new song to our God. What might your new song of love sound like in this Christmas season? How are you called to be Christ’s lover, and act on his behalf in this challenging world, in the year ahead?


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Go Home and Proclaim Good News

The big celebrations in the church’s liturgical year are now over. Jesus has died, is risen, and has sent his disciples out into the world to proclaim the Good News of God’s abiding and universal love. But we shouldn’t feel disappointed to be entering what the church calls Ordinary Time. This is when our real life in Christ truly begins.

Take, for example, the story of the “Gerasene demoniac” in Mark 5. This man lived in the hills on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in what today is called the Golan Heights. Gerasa was part of the Decapolis, ten cities in Palestine that formed the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.DSC_9264e (In January, we visited these excavated ruins of Beit She’an, aka Scythopolis, another city in the Decapolis.)

The “demoniac” is not named in scripture, but rather described by his affliction: He was possessed by many demons. Today we might call this some type of mental illness or schizophrenia but, in Jesus’ day, demons were understood to be the cause. Jesus meets this man right where he is: in the midst of his demons. Furthermore, Jesus immediately addresses this man’s defining issue—those demons. Jesus commands the demons to come out, negotiates with them about where they would go, and sends them off (to their deaths).

Naturally, this man—who remains unnamed—is thrilled with this turn of events. I can imagine him going immediately to the nearest Roman bathhouse for a good scrub, the trimming of his hair and beard, and the donning of some new, clean clothes. We know that he then hangs around with the disciples, continuing his healing process at the feet of Jesus. I’m pretty certain that he is enthralled by this miracle worker who has shown him a love of God which is deeper and broader and more healing than he could ever have imagined.

Also, naturally, this man wants to go with Jesus when he returns to Galilee. But Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus gives this man his commission: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” This man was not called to a life of itinerant ministry as one of Jesus’ disciples. He had his encounter with Jesus, and he was transformed through that encounter, but then he had to go home. He had to take himself home and spread the Good News that had transformed his life.

For most of us, following Jesus doesn’t mean taking up an itinerant ministry. It means going home, to the life we know and the people we know, and proclaiming Jesus’ message there. For this man, it meant returning from the Sea of Galilee to the cities of the Decapolis and spreading the Good News there.

The realm of God begins with us, right here, right now—right where we are. Once we encounter Christ, we are not called to follow him around for the rest of our lives. Even the disciples only got to spend about three years with him. Then they also were sent forth, commissioned to spread the Good News.

What is your home—your Decapolis? What is your commission? Where, and to whom, are you called to spread the Good News of resurrection, of new life, of the love of God which is deeper and broader and more healing than you could ever have imagined?

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Reclaiming the Writing Life

This weekend I’m attending another writers workshop—this one in my new home territory of Tucson. I just learned about it a couple of weeks ago, and learned at the same time that it was the last annual event because the organizer is retiring from the work. I’m sad that no one is taking it on, because it’s clearly been a good event for those who have attended, now and in prior years…but I’ve also learned that I have to let that go. In earlier years, I might have pondered whether this was something that I should get involved with. After all, it has benefited lots of people, myself included. But it doesn’t align with my own mission and vision at this point, and I’ve learned that it’s well past time for me to make that my primary focus.

You see, I let go of writing poetry for a lot of years in order to focus on other things. I spent a lot of years working for organizations that needed my administrative skills to further their own missions. But, as a result of all that work for others, my own writing vocation—as I’ve come to recognize it—has languished.

As I began to recognize earlier this year, and expressed out loud when I made my Lenten commitment to write poetry, it is time to reclaim the writing life. I need to accept—even embrace—that the written word is one way in which I am called to make a difference in the world. This blog helped me to recognize that. My poetry is likewise calling to me, aching to be shared and used as a vehicle for spiritual growth, both for myself and others. It doesn’t matter that it’s a tough time out there for poets. (I learned this weekend that there aren’t agents for poets because there’s so seldom any money to be made with poetry!) It honestly can’t matter that I may not publish a poetry collection. I need to write poetry because it helps focus my own soul work. Perhaps I will share more of it on this blog here. The point is, if I need to write it for myself, and as part of what I am feeling called to do and share, then that is enough.

I also need to recognize that everything I have done can feed into what I am doing now. Certainly my life experience and spiritual growth feed the words that I write, here and in my poetry. But even the less obvious influences are real. IMG_2800cLast year I participated in a card deck swap, where a bunch of us created artistic, inspirational cards, sent them off to the organizer, and then received a mix of cards from other people in return. Was it part of my own mission and vision? Not precisely—but the process did get me thinking creatively. And what I received in return has been a gift. Today, two of those cards are speaking to me, as I think about this post, and so I share them here. One of these came to me all the way from Australia! I do indeed need to share my voice; it is a God-given gift!

Is there something in your own life that has languished while you have focused on other things? At this point, it doesn’t matter why you have not tended your gift. It only matters that, at this point in your life, you ask yourself, and God, what it might take to reclaim that part of who you are. Who needs to hear your voice, experience your art, receive your ministry? What is it you need to do in order to more fully live out your soul’s calling, your vocation in this life? What step might you take today, to recommit to that part of yourself and your calling?