The Alchemist’s Dream

Blue bowl

I’m sad that I don’t know the name of the potter who created this beautiful blue-glazed terracotta bowl, and I was even sadder when I accidentally broke it.  But now it’s a reminder of a spiritual insight: that our brokenness can become a source of beauty… 

This song is for anyone who’s going through a difficult time.  I’ve been struggling with all sorts of things recently – professional and religious identity, second-hand racism, homophobia, the practicalities of day-to-day life as a freelancer and single parent, and more besides.  Being an empath doesn’t help, because unless I’m very conscious and careful I find myself taking on everyone else’s pain and trauma, along with my own!

For those who aren’t familiar with alchemy, it’s an ancient science that sought to turn base metals – everyday metals like iron and lead – into gold.  The alchemist’s quest is a metaphor for life itself: the discovery of the magical Elixir that transforms the mundane into something beautiful.   This Elixir is no more and no less than the Deep Mystery that the members of the Magdalene Fellowship, in my book The Nineteen Songs of Remembering, refer to as ‘The Love beyond all names’.

So ‘The Alchemist’s Dream’ is a way of trying to see challenges and struggles in a different light.   It’s sometimes hard not to feel envious of those people who seem to ‘have it all’ – the ones who look as though they’re just breezing through life, with good health, a thriving business or a well-paid job, a loving family, and a comfortable home.  But what  if life was never meant to be easy?  What if it’s through the brokenness that we learn to shine, and through accepting pain that we realise our deepest potential?

The Alchemist’s Dream: song lyrics

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

You gather us up with such infinite tenderness

That in some distant corner of some distant vision,

Our souls hear your innermost song in the silence,

And your hands will remake us

With a Love that we cannot express…

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact,

Yes, there are those who hold firm and refuse to surrender…

But where is the magic and where is the rapture in that?

For we only become our true selves in the hands of the Mender.

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

The heat of your flame sparks a melody in our veins,

And the songs that we sing start to echo your mystery,

Till some of the listeners find their own echoes…

And the places they take us

Are the places where power remains.

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact…

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

You mend every crack with the purest of molten gold;

Then the others who carry the scars of your mending

Can recognise us as their trusted companions,

And they’ll gather to wake us…

And a new story starts to unfold.

 

Yes, there are those who survive this lifetime intact…

 

Break us again, O Beloved!

For whenever you break us,

And mend us with gold, there’s a trace of your Love revealed;

Transformation is wrought by the cruellest of breaking,

And the deepest surrender, and the sweetest remaking…

Till they start to mistake us

For the Alchemist’s vision fulfilled…

 

Nothing remains of the people we were,

Nothing remains of the life we once knew;

Though our substance is clay, yet we shimmer with gold,

And we look at each other, and see only You…

So at last, in this lifetime, the Alchemist’s dream is fulfilled!

 

© Gemma Burford, 2017

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Skin colour does not equal ‘values’

Vivitar

We have to speak up and speak out about racism.  The only thing that’s required for the triumph of racism, fascism and neo-Nazism is for all those who believe in unity, diversity and the power of love to be terrorised into silence.

That’s what’s going on.  But we will not be silenced.   We will not be terrorised.  And I am not, repeat NOT going to sit back and let racists use my story – MY story – to justify their pathetic arguments.  This is a real comment that was made about The Video, which I have not edited, only copied and pasted:

“And yet they call me racist here in America because I won’t date a black man. I’m a realist and sociology student at University. I understand that the difference in values and culture between people can severely affect how they work together even just as co-workers much less as a romantic couple which in the end is a crap ton of work. And if you’re not starting from the same expectation and desire and values then you’re going to fail.”

 And my response, also unedited:

 

 

You ARE racist if you’re saying you ‘won’t date a black man’. Period.

 

Racism is judging people on the colour of their skin, which is exactly what you are doing. You can’t say anything about a person’s values or culture on the basis of their skin colour. NOTHING AT ALL.

 

Guess what? It wasn’t lions or second wives or my failure to adapt to obscure Maasai customs that drove us apart, it happened because I was still committed to grassroots activism and Lesikar got passionate about mainstream, Western-style, divisive party politics and so we ended up going in different directions. So please don’t make assumptions about a relationship that you know nothing about.

We actually WERE starting from the same expectation and desire and values. We wanted to preserve the Maasai culture (because I’m passionate about connection to nature, creativity and community, I always have been and I always will be) and help people to get an education without losing that sense of self.

 

Lesikar changed his values; I didn’t.

 

I resent the suggestion that we, or our marriage, ‘failed’ in some way because it didn’t last forever. 

We had seven years together, we learned a huge amount, we created amazing projects (including a school that has now been running for 10 years and educated over 350 young people, many free of charge, and a project to save teenage girls from FGM) and we now have two beautiful daughters.

 

I wish I could tell you all about them. 

I wish you could meet them.

Mixed heritage is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

They are incredible people.

 

Yes, mixed marriages take work.  But guess what, so do ALL marriages.  You can’t assume that you know something about a person’s values by looking at the colour of their skin.  You can’t assume that their values are different from yours if their skin is a different colour, any more than you can assume you have common values if it’s the same.

 

I’m finishing up my PhD by published work in Education for Sustainability, which is all about values, so this is a topic that I DO know something about.

 

We, as a human species, can do better than racism and fascism.

 

Cattle and goats don’t discriminate against against each other because some are brown, some are white, and some are black with white spots.

 

As for those who are calling themselves `Christians’ while carrying out vile acts of racism… Sorry, no.  Jesus would NOT go there.  Never.  He’d be standing up for the oppressed, not perpetuating oppression.