The Gradual Greening

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffee

Each year I look forward to nature’s transformation in March. I imagine the earth as a reluctant lover, having been cold and withdrawn in the winter months. Now slowly, ever so slowly, she warms again to the sun’s touch, showing her pleasure in the tender shoots of daffodils and crocus, budding dogwoods, and the slightest hint of a southerly breeze.

I wonder if earth’s gradual greening might have inspired St. Hildegard, the 12th century German abbess, mystic, and healer. Hildegard was a keen observer of natural processes and she took a gardener’s approach to healing and to the body. She was primarily concerned with something she called viriditas. Viriditas literally means “greenness,” but for Hildegard it was the broader ability of plants to put forth leaves, flowers, and fruits; and by analogy, for human beings to grow, give birth, and to heal. Hildegard noticed that plants and trees grow into the fullness of their nature according to the capacity they were given. A seed grows into the only plant it can. She believed that healing is really the power of your own nature to be itself—the freedom of the true self to live in unity with the life force that has been given to it.

We might think of viriditas as the unity between the self and God, the soul’s response to the warm touch of the Beloved. Healing rises from our identity rooted in the wholeness of God and the essential oneness at the heart of reality. Shalem’s founder, Tilden Edwards, writes in Living in the Presence that we are often captive to the symptoms of our brokenness and that healing may not be what our ego self-image imagines. There is much we cannot control and sometimes our desire for a certain outcome runs amok. There are moments when I feel bound in the dark clay of my being, longing to bloom again, to know the sun’s light in my deepest parts, and yet I am unable to enact my own resurrection. This too is part of the journey: Holy Saturday’s waiting, Jonah in the great fish, Joseph in prison, Dorothy asleep among the poppies, even Robin Hood in the dungeon. The greening itself, the resurrection, the healing is God’s work, it seems. And yet I can long for it. I can anticipate the reunion with my truest nature and the bright star burning within, knowing that whatever form my healing takes will be as it should be, beautiful according to its own nature.

As we watch the slow greening of nature around us, may we allow ourselves to be touched anew and to feel the deep veriditas rising within. Our watching is not passive. No. For as we wait, we long, we anticipate, and we ask for the reconciling, greening, aliveness of God at every level of our being and in our world. May the greening of our lives be made fruitful for the peace and wholeness of all people and all creation.

“Would any seed take root if it had not believed

the promise, when God said:

‘Dears, I will rain. I will help you. I will turn into

warmth and effulgence,

I will be the Mother that I am

and let you draw from

My body

and rise, and


~Thomas Aquinas

Kate-CoffeySavannah 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.

Grounded in Gratitude

 Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace.”

~John O’Donohue
The Bless the Space between Us

The days of 2014 are waning and I am venturing a guess that we all began this year somewhere else, whether in our inner lives or outer circumstances. Maybe we have physically relocated from one place to another. Maybe grief has changed us in its unwelcome and particular way. Maybe adventure has offered its hand for our enjoyment. Maybe the hours have called for quiet endurance, newfound courage, or a depth of trust we did not anticipate. Maybe love, belonging, welcome, and delicious satisfaction have surprised us as the full moon sometimes does at harvest, rising just above the horizon, golden and breathtaking. Maybe our initial resolutions for the year have been forgotten, but maybe we have pursued those intentions, evolving together through the long months.

Life has likely touched us in ways that have yet to reveal their true significance. Thanksgiving invites us to pause, consider our days, and offer a prayer of gratitude before the remaining weeks slip through our fingers in the headlong rush to January 1st–that shiny, symbolic day of beginning anew.

In my work as a hospital chaplain I see the full spectrum of human experience–birth and death, grief and celebration, days of waiting and moments of relief, heartbreak and healing. I recently had the tremendous privilege of being present with a young couple who brought their sick baby into the emergency room. What they assumed was a simple stomach virus revealed itself to be liver cancer. Their beloved son is not expected to live beyond his second birthday. Our moments together were filled with desolation, terror, and heartbreak. To my surprise they were also brimming with profound love. I will never forget the angelic boy with blonde curls sleeping peacefully upon his mother’s chest as she choked on her tears and grief. Buried beneath the pain was the pulsating presence of a mother’s indestructible love for her child, a love so real that her son could rest in her embrace. I found myself in a moment of strange and unexpected thanksgiving for the love that does not die.

What does it mean to be grateful in the midst of this untamed life? I wonder if practicing gratitude is a discipline of stability. Gratitude grounds us firmly wherever we find our feet at the moment, rooted in all the joy and disappointment of our very human lives. In expressing gratitude we say yes to life, choosing to accept again and again this gift of existence in all its beauty and terror. Gratitude is costly faithfulness, an offering of our commitment to both the gift and the Giver. In living gratefully we forgo our restless tendencies, choosing not to dissolve into our many distractions. In thanksgiving we offer ourselves as we truly are, taking our place once again at the table of life.

Gratitude leads us, through laughter and tears, to the solid ground beneath our shifting experience. May we rest there, embraced in the indestructible, pulsating heart of love.

Kate-CoffeySavannah 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.

Photo by Leah Rampy

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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-CoffeyKate 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.

Grace for the New Year

2014-01-02 20.25.03By Savannah Kate Coffey. Kate 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.

It’s that time of year when many of us look at the 12 fresh months stretching out before us and we resolve to do more, do less, be better, grow, accept, or improve in some way. There is something inspiring about the turning of the page. Maybe this year will be different. This is the year we will finally get it right. Each new year seems to offer an enticing combination of motivation, vision, and hope, true conviction that we can change. Embracing change with commitment and zest is essential to the spiritual life, but I sometimes wonder if we walk a fine line in our zeal for improvement, often berating ourselves, others, and life itself for our unmet expectations.

For some of us New Year’s resolutions come every five minutes, never feeling at peace with the works-in-progress that we are. Surely, it is good to improve and there are always things that need to be changed. Culturally, our endless self-evaluations are reinforced by the equally endless number of self-help books offering a formula to overcome every flaw.

I wonder if preoccupation with self-improvement is the flip-side of pride. All this focus on my perceived flaws keeps me turned inward, anxious and immobilized. I am unable to simply live in freedom and joy as a child of God. I miss opportunities to offer whatever I can to the best of my ability. It also places me in Eden right next to Adam and Eve. If I could only grasp this oh-so-elusive “fruit” I would be whole, complete, like God, beautiful, free from all the messy complications of being human. I would transcend the clay of which I am made.

One very wise woman I know has a mantra for navigating life well. In any given situation, she resolves to:

  1. Show up (nothing is ever really possible without presence).
  2. Pay attention (paying attention is necessary to grasp the invitation of each moment).
  3. Speak the truth (choosing right speech and action to the best of one’s understanding).
  4. Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Don’t be attached to the outcome. It is a curious thing to give your very best efforts while being unattached to the outcome, but this advice calls us to act from the motivation of integrity rather than result. It is also a path toward peace since we often can’t control the outcomes of our efforts anyway. When we release right actions into the universe they are free to fly as they will, and others are free to respond as they will. Outcomes are just too unwieldy to control.

I want to add one more piece to my friend’s mantra: Trust grace. Who wants life to be only about their efforts? That’s a scary thing! New Year’s resolutions are about taking stock and resolving to do our very best, but peace comes from trusting that whatever we are able to do, or unable to do, and whether we ever become all we want to be, our lives will be defined by grace–by God’s tenacious determination to bless us. I want my life to be defined by God doing God’s very best for me. May we all embrace the days of 2014 in freedom, and joy–confident that this year will be lived under the authority of grace. May all our resolutions be surpassed by God’s presence to us, truth for us, right action on our behalf, patience with the outcomes, and ever-present favor.