The Alchemy of Blessing
Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey
Blessing is a beautiful Old English word that means to consecrate or to give thanks. We count our blessings and ask blessing upon our meals. Blessing has even deeper roots though in the proto-Germanic word for blood. To bless originally meant to mark or hallow with blood as one would sprinkle blood upon an altar. Blood has always been a symbol of the life-force within, that which must flow if we are to be truly alive. Blessing is more than just a nice word about a sunny day or a happy heart, more than gratitude for our daily bread. Blessing is the bloodstream of the universe, keeping us healthy, strong, and connected to the flow of life.
Our days are often filled with the usual tasks, the mundane, and commonplace. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, our experience is rarely marked by “the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant–but [by] the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations” (“Mindful”). The raw material of our lives is often just that– basic, unimpressive, and sometimes quite painful. Our humanity is a beautiful thing–deeply rooted in both the fertility and humility of the humus, the good earth from which we originate and to which we return. We live a soiled existence, planted in an earthiness from which we can grow strong, fruitful, and compassionate. This same fecund humanity, though, is also the smudgy reminder of our very real limitations and the gravity we daily experience. Being “born to fly” is a popular notion, but I’ve never actually met anyone with wings.
In medieval times, alchemy was the art and science of taking a base metal such as lead and transmuting it into the precious metals of silver or gold. The fiery crucible was the place of transformation. Although alchemy long ago lost it’s popularity as a method for creating wealth, it remains a compelling symbol for the work of life: creating meaning, beauty, and spiritual riches from the clay underneath our feet.
We are all alchemists to the extent that we allow our raw experience to be transformed by the inner flame of the spirit. So often we see blessing only in those rare moments when we think we have it all figured out, when our emotions soar high, when we have met our quarterly sales goals, or when we finally feel needed, wanted, and loved. No. Blessing results when we allow the ordinary material of life to be filtered through the dignity and care of our spirit. The process is often messy, strange and uncomfortable. Perhaps we can learn to trust that the spirit within knows the way. Spirit is a very real and powerful force with wisdom and vision all it’s own, despite being so intangible and unwieldy.
Never doubt, please, no matter how leaden your life may seem, that you have something to offer. Your work becomes part of the forever-good of this universe, the blessing and bloodstream upholding life, in the moment you apply intentional presence and the flame of your spirit to the raw material resting in your hands. Spreadsheets, meetings, bath-time, research, treatment plans, phone calls and the evening meal become holy and blessed, not because they are somehow inherently exceptional, but because your spirit is.
Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.