At first glance the thought of’ beautiful brokenness seems an oxymoron. When something breaks we immediately thinks it has lost it’s worth. We discard it. This may be true of a dinner plate, but how about something of great value, such as a priceless vase… or a person? What then?
The art of kintsugi pottery takes us back to the 15th century, when, as the story goes, a Japanese shogun was given a priceless piece of pottery. In transit, it broke and he returned it to the maker to be mended. The vase was sent back to him, held together with ugly metal staples. Appalled by this, the shogun commissioned his artisans to repair the vase in a more sympathetic way. Kintsugi, translated as ‘golden joinery’, is the artistry they created. The repaired pottery is now a thing of even greater beauty because of its brokenness.
So what does this mean to you and me since this is not a ‘blog’ on pottery?
Kintsugi is a beautiful and accurate metaphor for our lives, and for the life, in the words of Henri Nouwen, of the “wounded Healer” as well as for those who would follow Him.
When we view our lives and those that surround us as being of great worth, yet broken and shattered from trauma, despair, hurt, fear, abuse, failure, addiction, disease, and even death, we see ourselves accurately. As we do, we also open up for others and ourselves the opportunity for beauty to transpire; for the Artisan’s skilled hands of repair; for a community to build.
But more often than not, we don’t see ourselves in this manner, for we live by our competencies. Many times when brokenness comes; we hide, we deny, we medicate, we avoid, we keep ourselves busy, except, of course, in the case of the mentally ill and the addicted who can not hide. For these, their brokenness is on ‘display’ for all to see, and, sadly, to avoid when possible.
Years before we lost Nick to the diseases of addiction and mental illness, he invited me into a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I had never attended one, but of course, I said “yes” to his invitation. I loved being with Nick and I loved watching his love for recovery. Immediately following the NA meeting, Nick asked me what I thought. I told him that I absolutely loved it, and that my only wish was that church would be more like this. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, here was my first exposure to true community – a community of brokenness.
To be sure, the men and women who crowd these smoke-filled rooms were broken. Their lives were shattered and in shambles and they needed each other. Desperately needed each other for life. As I continued on in my own room of recovery, I admired them for their courage, their openness, their vulnerability and their humility birthed from brokenness. While I was prepared to admire them, what I was not prepared for, was that I began to envy them. Yes, they are the fortunate ones.
Out of their great need, they built communities of care, honesty, openness, and service to one another. In that atmosphere, they ‘held each other’ in tenderness and understanding, while healing continued. Here, brokenness began to become something beautiful. It began to resemble the ‘upside down’ world that Jesus introduced by His Beatitudes. The world where service to each other is the hallway that leads into the ballroom of mutuality. There is no “us” and “them”; it is “we”.
I envied them, because, apart from these rooms, this ‘culture’ of communion was notably absent elsewhere. The world so many of us live, in has traded a cheapened ‘facebook’ connection for communion and thus we have been left alone in our beautiful boxes.
In ‘Lament For A Son’, the author Nicholas Wolterstorff, himself also having lost a son, questions “How do we mirror God? In our knowledge? In our creativity? Do we also mirror God in our suffering? Was it meant that we should be icons in suffering? Is it our glory to suffer? I believe it can be the ‘seedbed’ for God’s greatest work.”
With ‘tear stained’ eyes, I began to see both myself and those around me more clearly, because at its heart, for Kintsugi to transpire, we must begin by ‘seeing’ differently.
May we look beyond the brokenness that now crowds our shadows, and rather than discarding it, may we see in others what we would want others to see in us: someone of great beauty, and worth.
Kintsugi, Lord. Kintsugi.