A Word on Wednesday: Crucible

A crucible is a container of metal or refractory material employed for heating substances to high temperatures. When metals are melted, they are prepared for transformation into different shapes and purposes.

My dad worked for nearly forty years at an iron foundry. One summer, I cut lawn around the plants. My crew leader made sure I visited my dad at his post on the furnace deck surrounding three glowing crucibles. I saw vats of bright red, burning iron, and I saw my dad on a ledge standing over it. He wore heavy, green overalls, steal tip boats, a face shield, and a hard hat. My dad used some tool I did not recognized to reach over that piping hot metal to skim off its impurities. He monitored and logged the temperature. He poured that glowing liquid iron it into buckets attached to vehicles delivering it to waiting molds. I don’t know all the details, and I’m sure there was a lot more to it than that. I just saw him concentrate — physically and mentally — at the dangerous job. He did this eight hours a day, week after week, year after year.

I respect my dad’s loyalty to the company; his loyalty was a means to his ultimate end – providing stability for our family. That company, which had produced 145,000 tons of gray and ductile iron castings annually — ranking it among the top ten independent foundries in the United States — closed in 2016 coaxing my dad into a much deserved retirement.

My dad worked at that foundry, so I didn’t have to. I was saved from this fate. My vocation is not so punishing on my mind and body. The demands are not so obvious. My life work will never be on par with the dramatic tangibility that only comes from working with one’s hands. I do not stand over a crucible.

The noun crucible is the same word we have to describe a severe, searching test or trial.

This is what author Sue Monk Kidd refers to when she says this: Her crisis was the transforming crucible of her life. Crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold.”

It is a comfort to me to think about the pressures of severe trials as a means of transformation, an actual summons to create. The use of the word crucible in this spiritual fashion is an interesting choice for Monk Kidd. She encourages us to use struggles as an opportunity to take something whole, break it down to its melting point, slag off the excess, and reset it.

When a crisis can be thought of as a crucible, we can tinker with the matter and create something new and purposeful. We only need the strength, mental dexterity, and loyalty to keep watch over it. We need to know where to go with the embers of possibility.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

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