Excerpt from The Alchemical Transformation of the Wisdom Passage:
Based on “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“‘How strange Africa is,’ thought the boy. 

“He was sitting in a bar very much like the other bars he had seen along the narrow streets of Tangier. Some men were smoking from a gigantic pipe that they passed from one to the other. In just a few hours he had seen men walking hand in hand, women with their faces covered, and priests that climbed to the tops of towers and chanted—as everyone about him went to their knees and placed their foreheads on the ground. 

“‘A practice of infidels,’ he said to himself. As a child in church, he had always looked at the image of Saint Santiago Matamoros on his white horse, his sword unsheathed, and figures such as these kneeling at his feet. The boy felt ill and terribly alone. The infidels had an evil look about them. 

“Besides this, in the rush of his travels he had forgotten a detail, just one detail, which could keep him from his treasure for a long time: only Arabic was spoken in this country.” 

Like most people, Santiago is skeptical of people he doesn’t know—people who are different. And like most people, Santiago has been steeped in inflammatory stories about foreign people—people who are different. Not only do Arabs have different customs and religious practices, but here, now in Tangiers, they speak a different language. Moreover, the reference to Saint Santiago Matamoros makes a not-so-subtle reference to the Moorish invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711. The fall of Granada in 1492 marked the end of Muslim rule in Iberia—but obviously bad blood has remained for centuries. Santiago Matamoros will forever be known in Spain as the Moor-slayer.

Let me pause over this.

We are currently living in a doubly challenging moment in history. Not only are we contending with a world-wide pandemic, a pandemic which has exposed the inequalities of health care according to race and income; but here in the United States, as the result of the murder of George Floyd in the city of Minneapolis by a police officer, these inequities and injustices have reached a tipping point. 

The Wisdom community, however loosely defined, has not seen itself as a social justice movement. But for us now not to be engaged in this moment of history in some sort of constructive, if not transformative, way would be a damning irresponsibility. In fact, Wisdom may have a perspective that may prove very helpful in the necessary restorative work ahead of us as a country and as a human family.

I have long heard the criticism in Wisdom Schools: Where are all the young people and the people of color? How can we draw them here? To my mind, these are neither the most important nor most timely questions to be asking. Rather, as a part of the alchemical transformation of the heart, most all of us Wisdom practitioners must be asking ourselves and deeply considering how our own attitudes toward race are contributing to keeping us both asleep and blind. Here glibly or superficially progressive self-evaluations that put us beyond or above such issues actually serve to keep us stuck in our own white privilege, white fragility, and white blindness. 

There are currently some young teachers in the Wisdom community who are poised to take us into this work. Most of us will have to confront some attitudes about race and color that we would rather not own up to. Beyond spiritual declarations, we must engage in difficult small group discussions wherein we can both inspire each other with self-honesty and hold each other more deeply accountable. 

In the end, the Wisdom path may prove most helpful in all of this in its deepening capacity to see the divine wholeness in all its apparent disparate parts. While the parts can be differentiated and distinguished and thus appreciated, they belong together and can and should be joined. To see the other, not as other but as me, clumsily describes the Wisdom way of seeing. But that seeing begins by a fearless self-inventory and an acknowledgement of how biases get imbedded and stuck in our minds and our bodies. These must be mined and then owned.

Not only might this historical moment we are in be aided by a Wisdom perspective, but the Wisdom movement in general and our own Wisdom transformations in particular may indeed require this historical moment for their fullest unfolding.


Images credits from the top: Tangine cooking in Tangier, photo courtesy of Zach Woolwine, Unsplash; Friday Prayer,image from photo courtesy of Levi Clancy. Unsplash; photo image courtesy of Francesco Alberti, Unsplash.

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8 thoughts on “Excerpt from The Alchemical Transformation of the Wisdom Passage:<br>Based on “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

  1. What I find critically important is your statement that “the wisdom path may prove most helpful in all of this in its deepening capacity to see the divine wholeness in all its apparent disparate parts.” What appears separate is essentially one. To live from that awareness there is no separation, racial or otherwise, and thus no fighting or violence.

  2. Deeply grateful for your invitation, Bill, to enter more deeply and tangibly into this watershed moment in our shared history as human beings. I would like to hear more about the young Wisdom teachers in the larger community who stand poised to lead us into this work.

    Would also welcome reading and focusing collectively on Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands. I was deeply moved by his interview with Krista Tippett a couple of weeks ago as mentioned above.

    1. Indeed, deep listening to the voices of our inner disquietude and sitting with the discomforting voices of the status quo, or the anger and dispare of the marginalized until they can be reconciled within us and transformed. We do need each other to strengthen our hearts and minds for this epic endeavor.

  3. Thank you Bill for your thoughtful reflection. This is an important time for us all to reflect on our history, and stand side by side with our brothers and sisters of color.

    Thank you Paula for sharing Resmaa Menakem’s interview with Kristen Moe. His voice is an important one to listen to. He was also interviewed on On Being. Very powerful, and also gentle in his approach.

  4. Thank you for this!
    Truly it is past time for all of us to regularly practice the Jungian-like exercise of ‘switching sides during the debate’. Having spent 30 plus years as an unhappy liberal living and raising six children in a very conservative corner of the US, this became my survival strategy.

    It works.

    There is much healing and flow and connection happening in the most unexpected of places.
    Many of my liberal friends are now angry with me or no longer speak to me because I now ask for understanding and communication rather than judgment and anger. I have much to learn (!!). I still am me, believing in basically similar things but now trying to listen far more, and seeing it all as growth and flow.

    Systemic racism is a given. This is not new.
    I don’t understand why those interested in the future of Christianity and in beginning wisdom school education do not spread their nets far wider for a willing and ready audience — beyond traditionally religious streams of connection. I’m confused by the lack of discussion within meditation groups about how systemic and far reaching the issues humanity faces are. This goes far beyond the current pandemic and social unrest.

    My (soft) background is in the area of environmental science; human ecology. Basically our societal structure and overshot way of living is already history. Who does not see this? Who does not see what this means?

    I encourage those within wisdom schools and progressive Christian communities to reach out to those feeling broken and unsure of our way ahead. Looking for love ❤️

    My six children, now grown and all so intelligent; sensitive and giving-back-to-society professionals .. they long ago gave up on the deep Episcopal steeping (compromise between Quaker mother and Catholic father) they were raised in. Most no longer view any of it as helpful in their young lives. Still, the patterns are there ..

    Start with David Fuller’s ‘Rebel Wisdom’?
    Jem Bendell or Charles Eisenstein?

    Perhaps you within the ‘future of Christianity’ circles have already spread your nets wide and I’m simply a very gratefully included outsider, trying to fit these many pieces together .. 🙂

    Thank you!


  5. An historical, if halcyon, period during the Muslim residence in Spain that it might be profitable to examine is the 10th and 11th century period in and around Girona, in the north, when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace, harmony and mutual respect. This period of time witnessed a cross-fertilization of cultures which greatly influenced all three. If I recall correctly, it did not end until the Inquisition put an end to Inter-religious toleration.

  6. Very excellent reflection. A tsunami of change and challenge: of Covid, racism, and climate change is rudely awakening us to examine our blind spots. Wisdom way of knowing must include social justice. Thanks for sharing your ‘inconvenient truths”

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