Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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What We Put Aside


Recently I’ve found myself pondering the various writing-project ideas that I’ve generated over the years. A couple weeks ago, I decided to see if I could gather them all into one place, one list. I started going through various electronic files and discovered that I could list twenty different ideas that resided in my computer or my head (and I still haven’t dipped into the older paper files in my office!). In the process I discovered that, in some cases, significant work had been undertaken to bring those ideas to fruition. When I shared this fact with one friend of mine, her response was, “That means you’re a writer.”

DSC_3031 invert hue flashlight heal brush darkerThat may well be true. It also means I haven’t always been very faithful to my craft. I’ve let a lot of ideas linger in obscurity for a lot of years. Admittedly, some of them probably don’t need to see the light of day—or at least they don’t seem worthy of attention at this point. Others, however, I find of great value, here and now—worth my attention, my effort, to see if I can, at some level, bring them into the light.

Part of the reason I’m looking to do this is that I am finally actively working with someone on the development of a website. We have a rough draft of a home page “mocked up” and we’re talking about offerings that I might share with my various communities, including you—readers of my blog. I actually have already drafted a free ebook that I will offer when the website goes live, as an incentive for people to connect with me and engage with more of my spiritual reflections—my prayerful pondering.

One of the gifts of dipping back into the various writing projects I’d put aside was discovering that, in the months leading up to when I finally started blogging, I had, in essence, begun honing the craft. I’ve spent time this past week re-reading a series of meditations on the life of prayer and discovering that they are just as relevant today as they were four years ago…and that they do contribute to what I have to offer. Some of them, in fact, may make an appearance on this blog in the coming months.

Others are likely to form the backbone of an ebook in which I ponder the exercise of prayer from the perspective of photographer and observer. We’ll see; it’s still unfolding, but a draft introduction flew off my fingers this week, which to me is a sign that the Spirit is at work in bringing to light what has dwelt too long in darkness. (I also found myself awake at 3 am one morning, beginning to think through the tax-gathering and filing consequences of moving from offering only services to offering goods as well!)

I may never know all the reasons why I’ve let these ideas languish, although I have some theories. What feels important to me at this point is that there is gold, in the form of lived-and-learned wisdom, buried in the darkness. It needs to be brought into the light. It is part of my calling at this stage in my life. I am trusting that God will guide me, lead me, so that what I have to offer may be of value to those who walk the spiritual path, serve others, and seek to bring hope to a world in need of Good News.

What parts of yourself, your wisdom, your experience, have languished in the darkness? How might you be called, in this season, to bring that precious gold into the light?


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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?


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Pedernal Pearls


This past week was an incredible gift for me. I attended a writer’s workshop/retreat at Ghost Ranch. A dozen of us spent our mornings and evenings together, discussing elements of the writing craft, experimenting with new ways to stimulate our writing, and sharing the results of our work with each other. I came away feeling inspired and energized about my poetry and committed (again!) to making my personal writing (as opposed to my professional writing for others) an integral part of my life.

I also took a lot of photographs and even played with water colors, something I haven’t done in decades. Today I thought I’d share a poem and a painting, on the same subject. I also invite you to ponder where in your life you might need to nurture your creative or spiritual life with new input, practice or support.

 

Pedernal PearlsPedernal

 

Pedernal looms in the distance,

wearing a scant choker of snow.

Clouds dance with her high collar,

throwing a virga shawl around her shoulders.

Wind whips her darkened skirts

As water evaporates beneath her feet.

 

Where did our hearts wander

While our heads were elsewhere?


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My 2016 Lenten Commitment


One morning last week, in prayer, I was reflecting on my reconnection with poetry and realized that I needed some way to integrate personal writing into my life. I’ve been so busy lately, with our move and an abundance of editing work, that I have made no time for my own writing—except for these blogs. Having a Saturday-night deadline each week has made me write—and that is good. What I needed, I realized, was an external structure to assist me in forming an internal poetry habit.IMG_2168

Then it came to me: this is my Lenten discipline for 2016. Those of you who have been following me for a while know that my 2014 Lenten discipline was a life-changing fast from processed sugar. The external structure of a Lenten fast enabled me (in the best sense of that word!) to give up something that was, in essence, a primary way I avoided turning to God in my life. Rather than prayerfully spending time with God when I was tired, or hungry, or unhappy, I reached for the chocolate.

This year, I am choosing to take on something rather than give up something. While our cultural understanding of Lent generally focuses on a “fast,” like giving up coffee or chocolate, the goal of a Lenten discipline is to draw us closer to God. This means that we can think broadly, and creatively, when it comes to choosing a Lenten discipline.

So why is writing poetry a good Lenten discipline for me? In part, it is good because I have received from my Creator a facility with words that needs to be shared. Using our God-given gifts is one way that we draw closer to God. Another reason is that I will need to take time each day to slow down, pay attention, and let the Spirit show me something worth writing about. In this way, I will turn my attention toward God an additional time each day.

So this year I will write, in order to enrich my writing life and grow my relationship with God. What will you do, in this Lenten season, to grow your own relationship with God?

Sharing a Lenten discipline with others helps us to make that commitment and stick with it. I invite you to share your own Lenten commitment, here in the comments below, or with someone else you know and trust.


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Nourishing My Writer’s Life


Last weekend, Silver City hosted its second biannual Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Three days were filled with activities ranging from poetry readings and workshops on writing song lyrics to talks on the state of the publishing industry and the art of book design.

I attended a workshop with Mary Sojourner entitled “Scalpel and Thread: The Art of Fine-Tuning Your Writing” in which we were invited to reconnect with a safe and sacred space, use a sentence as catalyst for a ten-minute free-writing session, then take another five minutes to edit out those parts that a reader would skip over.

Following this exercise, a few of us were invited to share our opening paragraph. I read mine, and received a spontaneous kudo from the participant next to me, as well as an indirect affirmation of my writing skills when another participant felt compelled to say that her work was not as good as mine. Sojourner, however, suggested that I shorten my sentences, speaking of cadence and rhythm, along with the need to keep the reader’s attention.

A part of me resisted her feedback, but another part recalled those seasons when poetry flowed in my life and I wondered about the possibility of turning those images into a poem. Over the past week, I’ve sat with this initial paragraph, played with it, and here are the results.

The initial paragraph as I read it in the workshop:

I kneel and pine needles poke through my jeans. Brown and dry, their faded musk drifts up to my nose as I slide onto my left hip and settle on the ground. My gaze slides up the trunk of a nearby Ponderosa, jigsaw-puzzle bark weaving past my sight. Needles join a million gentle dances on the breeze. I hear that precious sound, somewhere between waves and willow sighs, as wind weaves melody through the branches above me.

One poem:

Brown, dry, and sharp
Faded pine needles
Rustle
As I kneel
Shift
Slide onto hip
Onto earth.

Ponderosa towers above
Jigsaw-puzzle bark
A roadway for my eyes
Traveling toward heaven
Detoured by pine needles
dancing in the breeze
sighing as wind slips through them.

 

And some haikus:

Kneeling under pines
Eyes travel jigsaw-bark path
Upward to the clouds

Eyes travel upward
Along puzzle-bark highway
Touch needle-pierced sky

Crouching in forest
Pine needles tickle heaven
Dead ones tickle knees

Which of these speaks best to you?

When is the last time that you’ve been encouraged to do something differently? Did you resist the invitation, or follow through? What were the results? Did the process have an impact on your life or your perspective?