Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Alchemy of Spirit and Grief

Written by: on November 18, 2023




  1. The medieval forerunner of chemistry based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.
  2. A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.[1]

I love this word, so much, and it sums up the realm in which I work, well the 2nd understanding does.  Daniel Liebermann dedicated a chapter to Alchemy in his book Spellbound. “When two chemicals react with each other, something occurs that’s different from what we’re used to seeing.”[2]  Lieberman is attempting to take us into our unconscious mind. In his book, he warns of some of the dangers of the unconscious mind and our wandering into that space.  He goes into projection, meditation and the shadow self, a plethora of great thoughts and information. However, for me, the chapter on Alchemy was drew me into this book.

A seemingly magical (Spiritual) process of transformation, creation, or combination. Lieberman gives the example of cream being poured into coffee; 2 substances now combined to make something new.

In Oxford a group of us went to a bar called “The Alchemist” where we watched multiple drinks transformed into something new!  It was fun, and mostly just bar tricks, but it was Alchemy.  I would dare say our Advances are Alchemy for our Doctorates.  We could all study and read and gain wisdom from our project faculty, but I dare say it’s the alchemy of our time together for 3 years and our intense times of the Advances that the magical process of transformation.

In hospice chaplaincy our world of ministry is learning the art of understanding, diagnosing, and healing spiritual pain, and it doesn’t end there, we also try to help transform spiritual pain[3].  Richard Groves started a non-profit that trains all of us on this important task of being present to spiritual pain. In a YouTube interview Lieberman states “It’s no longer about fighting to survive, we no longer live in that kind of scarcity, so we have to find meaning. We have to choose something that’s hard and involves failure because that is how hard it is, you can’t choose an easy life”.  [4]  We need to find meaning.

In my experience, where we fall short as a culture and as a church (though we talk about it every Easter Sunday) is that we tend to end our pain and suffering with the act of healing.  Whether it’s actual healing, or prayers answered, or even death.  We fall short in the Alchemy of pain.  We walk through our suffering we tend to say “phew” that was tough and try to move on.  However, we have been alchemized, changed, and shoving down the pain we went through does come back.  Groves, and Lieberman would say that the true gift of pain and suffering is transformation.  We must look back and process what we just went through and acknowledge how we’ve been changed by what we’ve been through. Alchemy of Spiritual Pain and Grief.

Lieberman introduces us to Karl Jung’s interest in two alchemical processes, circulatio and conjunction. “Circulatio is the repeated processing of alchemical ingredients, view as necessary to bring about the desired results.”[5]  Lieberman is noting that when we’ve been through a process repeatedly, it leads to growth and transformation.  I think of ritual and the act of communion every week is transformative, but perhaps each individual communion participation is not necessarily transformative.  It’s the repeated act of participating in the ritual that brings transformation. “Once we recognize the circulatio in our own lives, we can see it in others’ lives as well”.  What a powerful call to first work on ourselves, recognize our own growth and then utilize that transformation to empower others to recognize their own alchemy!

“Conjunctio is the bringing together of opposites, which for Jung was a symbol of individuation.”[6]  I have officiated my fair share of funerals, and supported hundreds of families in grief.  The true alchemy of grief, the Conjunctio is that grief and joy are opposite sides of the same coin.  I usually get a “huh?” type of look from the grieving but go on to explain that they are experiencing such deep grief because they have had the true experience of joy.  If joy was not part of the equation with their experiences with the deceased their grief would not be as deep.  They influence each other and in that alchemy, we experience grief and understand the gift of joy.  John Fehlen and I noted pretty quickly in our research that a lot of his books on joy spoke on grief, and almost all my books on grief spoke on joy.  Alchemy is a gift, it is transformation.  May we be given the gift of transformation, especially after hard things, like this doctorate.

[1] www.dictionary.com, definition of Alchemy

[2] Lieberman, Daniel Z. Spellbound. (Texas, BenBella Bbooks, Inc, 2022) pg 145

[3] Groves, Richard. The American Book of Living and Dying. (California, Celestial Arts, 2009) pg 39

[4] www.youtube.com Your behavior won’t be the same after this. Greatness Clips interview with Dr. Lieberman

[5] Lieberman, Daniel Z. Spellbound. (Texas, BenBella Bbooks, Inc, 2022) pg 163.

[6] Lieberman, pg. 166.

About the Author


Jana Dluehosh

Jana serves as a Spiritual Care Supervisor for Signature Hospice in Portland, OR. She chairs the corporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee as well as presents and consults with chronically ill patients on addressing Quality of Life versus and alongside Medical treatment. She has trained as a World Religions and Enneagram Spiritual Director through an Anam Cara apprenticeship through the Sacred Art of Living center in Bend, OR. Jana utilizes a Celtic Spirituality approach toward life as a way to find common ground with diverse populations and faith traditions. She has mentored nursing students for several years at the University of Portland in a class called Theological Perspectives on Suffering and Death, and has taught in the Graduate Counseling program at Portland Seminary in the Trauma Certificate program on Grief.

9 responses to “Alchemy of Spirit and Grief”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    What an interesting out take from Lieberman. Your experience in dealing with death, grief and JOY, give you a unique perspective.

    Alchemy = transformation. Joy and Grief shaping you and others into something stronger. Nice.

    Because of your experiences, you have serious “street cred.” And I enjoyed your insight.

    My experience….Growing up in a multi religion, multi cultural setting, myths = reality. Superstitions = rules to live by.

    Enter Christ.

    In my group of friends none of us were from Christian homes. Some 40 years later almost all of us have come to Christ. HIS truth pierced the cloud of false gods.

    I remember reading This Present Darkness, Frank Perretti when I was a young Christian at age 33. I was in the U.S. Army and apparently witchcraft along with some weird sexual practices was rampant in my unit.

    That shaped me to see how the unconscious can be strongly influenced by Satan. Ephesians 6, bolstered me in understanding and preparing me for my new awareness of the spiritual battle raging around us. Jenny Dooley’s post was interesting.

    She wrote, “How do we integrate the disciplines of science and religion, the mystical and the rational, the conscious and the unconscious in effort to become our truest self and remain grounded in our faith?

    She goes on…”Our Christian faith and spirituality are gifts that come along side to help us safely engage the unconscious mind. Dr. Lieberman lands on meditation with the appropriate caveats and warnings which also apply to our spiritual practices.[15] Christian spiritual practices offer us ancient ways of engaging with our unconscious mind and integrating our shadow self. Spiritual practices that have aided my journey thus far are lectio divina, the examen, centering prayer and breath prayer, and spiritual direction. All encourage awareness of God’s presence and activity in my life, center me on God’s loving-kindness, and gently move me closer to my truest self in Christ.”

    Her experiences exposed her to many interesting Christian, spiritual, mystical writings that prepare us for the unconscious. I am reading some now.

    Thanks for your post.


    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Thank you Russell,

      I read Perretti too in my 20’s and it was disturbing and fascinating. I always struggle with this black and white levels of understanding our faith because deep down I relate most to the mystical. Perhaps it’s the Pisces in me. The longer I work end of life, the more I understand that life is Mystery and God is in the mystery. It’s all a part of the long shore of ignorance and that perhaps there are things we won’t know of how God works until we are in that moment with God. I have watched people not eat or drink or respond to us here on earth for days and days and die within 10 minutes of a certain loved ones arriving and those who have forgotten their own names yet nearing death see and speak to loved one’s already with God, or wait until family leave the room. What this leaves me with, is that God is with us..always, and the comforting thing is that even when we seem to no longer be in control, we are in partnership with God and together we decide when to let go. I believe in miracles, I believe God is with ALL of us, not all of the people experiencing these subscribe to faith. I know this is a little broader then most theological stances, but my biggest belief is that God is LOVE and God LOVES all of us!

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jana,
    I enjoyed how you unpacked alchemy for us and particularly the circulatio and conjunctio processes. They really do describe the process of transformation. Please correct my thinking on this, as I may not be making the best connections. In counseling, I see clients enter spaces of circulatio when they repeatedly tell their story, often highlighting different aspects or simply getting more comfortable with the story. This repetition often produces healing and transformation. I also note the repetition of certain practices and rituals have a similar impact, for example relaxation breathing and a new one for a few clients… cold plunges. Conjunctio is also helpful in seeing the both/and of a situation but also in holding opposite emotions as you mentioned with grief and joy. That is often a new experience with clients. One frequent combination is anger and hope. The tensions are uncomfortable but helps move toward change. Does that make sense?

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:


      Yes….I think? Unless I misunderstood Lieberman :). I think your examples make complete sense. I see this in the act of forgiveness at end of life. I have counseled soooo many people who struggle with the concept of forgiveness. I helped a woman who had unforgiveness in her heart that surprised her because she thought she had forgiven her daughter years ago and now that she was there taking care of her it all came up. Forgiveness is Circulatio…we have to acknowledge it everytime and not judge ourselves when it comes up again and again. I challenged her that if she was able to acknowledge her thoughts and feelings instead of shoving them down, if we can ride with the feelings my thoughts were that each time it comes up it becomes less and less intense each time until it’s transformed. What if we could do this circulatio for most of our problems, and I think, if I understood correctly too, that your counseling definitely utilizes this.

  3. Caleb Lu says:


    Noticed that our cohorts were reading to same book, and wanted to make it a point to read/comment on some of y’alls blogs. I was also drawn to the alchemy that Lieberman brought up. The circulatio was especially fascinating: to be involved with and do something over and over until your have distilled it’s very essence. It’s fun to read your blogs (I’ve read a few even though I haven’t commented) and see how you’re so familiar with concepts and emotions around death and grief. I would definitely say that you’ve engaged in the circulatio of your work and we benefit and learn from your transformation.

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Thank you Caleb, I feel honored. I also appreciate your validating my voice in my expertise. I struggle a bit with church heavy topics this semester, and overall, so I have decided to really lean into my unique point of view. Almost all we have discussed and read is really interesting when taking the end view. Thank you Caleb!

  4. The idea of alchemy, as a process of transformation in aspects of life like healing pain working as a hospice chaplain and personal development is quite fascinating. I find Daniel Liebermans interpretation, his insights on the mind and Richard Groves emphasis on spiritual pain to be in line, with my own experiences. I’m curious to know how you perceive the principles of circulatio and conjunction described by Jung actively influencing your practice and personal growth.

    • mm Jana Dluehosh says:

      Thanks Matthieu. If you read my responses to the others, I think life review, finding someone to listen to repeated narratives can help us unravel our feelings and thoughts and find the facts from our ideas of facts. We often speak of forgiveness in our Christian world as a duty and a “one time act” when I have experienced that we judge our selves because it’s not a one time act, its circular or even a funnel where the more we revisit and forgive again, the lighter our load and less often it comes back around until it’s transformed…ta da! Alchemy!

  5. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    I had not thought of alchemy through the lens that you presented. Your post was very powerful for me, especially this statement, ” I would dare say our Advances are Alchemy for our Doctorates. We could all study and read and gain wisdom from our project faculty, but I dare say it’s the alchemy of our time together for 3 years and our intense times of the Advances that the magical process of transformation.” I could not agree more. I think that our transformation is as much shaped by each other than anything that we will read or write. I have felt so Blessed that our cohort is so special, it feels like it was specifically curated this way.

    And I agree, “What a powerful call to first work on ourselves, recognize our own growth and then utilize that transformation to empower others to recognize their own alchemy!”, this is such important work to do.

Leave a Reply