“In Need of Repair”

Super glue – what would we do without it?  My family has a stash in a drawer in our kitchen, and pull it out pretty frequently.  Over the years we’ve had a lot of items in our home – from broken toys to knick-knacks on the windowsills – that have been patched back together to give them one more chance at usefulness.  But super glue only goes so far.

Brokenness is a part of life.  How we respond to that brokenness is what matters.

There’s a practice that originated centuries ago in Japan called kintsugi. According to a Japanese legend, a mighty shogun warrior broke his favorite tea bowl and sent it away for repairs. When he got it back, the bowl was held together by ugly metal staples. Although he could still use it, the shogun was disappointed.  Still hoping to restore the bowl to its former beauty, he asked a craftsman to find a more elegant solution. 

The craftsman wanted to try a new technique, something that would add to the beauty of the bowl as well as repair it.  So, he mended every crack in the bowl with a lacquer resin mixed with gold. When the tea bowl was returned to the shogun, there were streaks of gold running through it, telling its story, and—the warrior thought—adding to its value and beauty.  This is how the art of kintsugi was born. 

Translated as “golden joinery,” kintsugi means to repair broken pottery that actually transforms it into something new and beautiful, with all of the cracks shining with gold.  The notion of kintsugi values an object not just for its beauty, but more for its imperfections – imperfections that are something to celebrate, not hide. 

How we need this attitude today.  Our lives are full of brokenness.  Unfortunately, too often we try to hide that brokenness.

Maybe we’ve been hurt or betrayed by a friend, and we retreat inside ourselves.  We’ve been trapped at home during COVID, sinking into depression, and yet we pretend that everything’s okay and we’re coping just fine.  A spouse abuses us, but we don’t speak up.  We sense that we have a drinking problem, but feel too embarrassed to ask for help.  A marriage that began with intimacy ends up with alienation and buried anger.

            There are so many ways that we experience brokenness, which too often we end up denying.  We would rather disguise our cracks than seek repair.

            In today’s passage from the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul travels to Ephesus, where he finds twelve disciples.  He asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”  They reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

          While it might be a stretch to call these disciples broken, they’re clearly lacking in knowledge and understanding of God’s Spirit.  A puzzled Paul then asks, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answer, “Into John’s baptism.”  And suddenly Paul understands that they need some help and instruction;  in effect, they need some repair.  So he explains, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”  Paul knows that John baptized with water, while Jesus baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  On hearing this, the disciples are baptized in the name of Jesus, and when Paul lays hands on them the Holy Spirit enters them. Immediately, they speak in tongues and prophesy, just like the first Christians on the day of Pentecost.

            Suddenly, the gaps and cracks in the lives of these disciples are filled, and they’re made whole as disciples of Jesus.  But notice – there’s no attempt to deny or disguise their deficiencies.  Instead, God fills their cracks with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, making them stronger and more beautiful in the broken places.

            Everyone has fractures and cracks in their lives. This past year has brought sorrow and mourning to millions around the globe due to the virus, not to mention the losses humanity suffers in the course of their everyday lives.  The world is full of people with broken hearts, broken spirits, and broken relationships.  Can these mended Japanese ceramics be a metaphor for us and our world as we seek to be repaired?  

The writer Ernest Hemingway once said that “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”   Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, said this about the broken places of our lives: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

Do you know people who have been especially wounded and broken?  I find that some of the strongest and most beautiful people I know are those who have cracks and scars.  The parents of a child struggling with cancer who comfort others in the same situation. The former drug addict who helps a fellow addict stay clean.  The survivor of sexual abuse who provides a lifeline to others who are being abused.  The spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient who offers support to families dealing with various types of dementia.  These are people with cracks that have been filled with gold, the gold of God’s love and light.

We see damaged goods all around us.  The novelist Anne Lamott has written, “There is a theology that says when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, God often births something big and beautiful.”  This is true for nature, for individuals, even nations.  This week, our country saw what’s “going wrong all at once” on full display.  

Our country has clearly been divided for a long while – politically, economically, racially.  Yet this week, that divide became an abyss, a violent and deadly one.  So at a time when our national fissures have become so formidable, how do we begin to repair?

I find hope in the reflections of Fareed Zakaria, in an opinion piece he wrote on Thursday entitled, “The Good News Hidden Within One of America’s Darkest Weeks.”  He recounted how as a youth growing up outside of the United States, he felt a great attraction to America, even during very tumultuous times.  Amidst the turmoil after Vietnam, Watergate, and the Cold War, he was aware that “…the chaos and disruption were evidence of an open society in the midst of great change, a place that showcased all the anger and turmoil that come with wrenching dislocations and transformations.  But these things were also the sign of a country airing its problems and facing its challenges; a place that, having weathered the storm, would find new resilience, energy and strength.  I believe that today as well.”

Brokenness is a part of life – our own, and our nation’s.  Recognizing imperfections – not hiding or denying them – is the beginning of the path to healing and wholeness.  Bringing the cracks to light is the first step toward filling them with gold.  Only then will we be able to “birth something big and beautiful.”

The idea behind the technique of kintsugi is to recognize the entire history of an object, with all of its cracks and flaws, and to visibly incorporate the fissures into a new creation.  Kintsugi beautifies the breakage and treats it as an important part of an object’s history.  It values the fractures instead of disguising them or glossing over them.  And the whole process results in something far more beautiful and elegant than the original.  I like to think that as a nation we will ultimately find value in our imperfections, and that through the process of healing and reconciliation, we will become stronger in our broken places.

God’s extraordinary power of repair is delivered when people open the cracks in their lives to the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Extraordinary power enters us when we discover that something is missing and ask for help — like the twelve disciples in Acts who had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit.  When they agreed to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, their cracks were filled with spiritual healing.

There is truly a beauty waiting to be discovered when we begin to realize that God is using everything in our lives, including our brokenness, our pain, our failures, our weaknesses, our fractured relationships, our shattered dreams, our disappointments, and our cracked personalities, to bring about a very, very, beautifully redemptive story.  

Each of us has cracks and gaps. Let’s not deny, disguise or hide our brokenness.  Instead, in this holy season of Epiphany, let’s allow the light of Christ to fill us, and the power of the Holy Spirit to make us beautiful, strong and whole.  Amen.