partsFeb 7, 2024–Everyone loves a frosty chocolate milkshake.

But would you instead consume–separately–a raw egg, half cup of cane sugar, a cup of warm milk, a cup of heavy cream, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, a spoonful of salt, and 3 tablespoons of chocolate syrup?

What about delicious, crispy waffles? Who doesn’t love those warm, doughy cakes, seared with tidy squares, brimming with melted butter, and overflowing with sweet maple syrup?

Sure, but what if instead IHop served you a pile of flour, a raw egg, a cup of milk, a hunk of butter, and a cup of cold syrup? Taken separately, you would gag on every one of those items.

Something magical happens when ingredients are combined. It is physical change; it is chemical change; it is emotional change. Scientific yet mysterious. Confounding yet reassuring.

Start with all baked goods. Donuts, cakes, muffins, cookies, and details food are irresistible fresh out of the oven. But before they enter the oven, most baked goods would be inedible broken out to their constituent parts.

Over in the meat family, the same transformation takes place. Who doesn’t love a good hunk of sausage. But I won’t even describe what organs go inside the casing, or the casing itself.

How about clothing? Today’s youngsters may believe cute outfits magically appear on the racks at the mall. But some of us remember watching our moms transform bolts of cloth into britches, dresses, and blouses using needle and thread. And when those clothes wore out after being handed down to ungrateful siblings, the material was cut up into squares and resewn into cozy quilts. Tracing back even further, the cloth started out as a boll in a cotton field or the hair on a sheep. Imagine wrapping our bodies in goatskins or silkworm cocoons.

Abandoning the food and clothing arenas, this metaphor can be flogged like the deceased stallion:

A marriage is more than two betrothed individuals.

A church is more than a collection of believers.

A story is more than a string of words.

It’s beguiling looking at the world around that we take for granted, and trying to determine at which exact moment do separate entities combine to become something greater than the sum of their parts. At what point does a sidewalk emerge from a wheelbarrow slurry of rock, sand, cement, and water?

When do quarter notes and rhyming words mesh to become an unforgettable wedding song?

A cup of coffee is only burnt, crushed seeds simmered in boiling water.

A souffle arises when egg yolks and milk are curdled and exposed to just the right amount of heat. At least I think that is so. I’ve never made a souffle, and don’t feel like looking it up.

Wine? Beer? Who really understands the alchemy behind turning grape juice into the nectar of the roving bridesmaids?

Glass. It’s just sand, before it becomes an exquisite, delicate champagne flute.

The wonder of our world is not the wonders of our world; it is the transformation from the profane to the sacred. It is that exact moment when raw material emerges as finished product. While looking for more examples, you soon realize every single thing that elevates life above the mundane is the result of some transformation. Whole religions are built around it. Ask the next Catholic you meet to explain transubstantiation.

It’s not the product versus the process. The product is the process.