Update: Since publishing this post, it has become by far the most viewed post on my blog. During October 2017, I decided to expand on it by taking part in Write 31 Days to create a series “31 Days of Kintsugi.” For an index of all the posts in that series, please click here.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”- Ernest Hemingway
I was interested this week to learn about the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The word translates as “golden joinery” and it is a method of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. The aim is not to hide the repairs, but to make them a feature- to incorporate them into a design often more beautiful than the original.
The philosophy behind it is to value the brokenness and repair as part of the object’s history, rather than seeing it as something to disguise. In contrast to Western philosophy which strives for perfection and looks to hide brokenness, Kintsugi acknowledges the brokenness, and then pieces it back together into something beautiful.
It strikes me that God is the master of Kintsugi.
He knows our brokenness, yet he doesn’t reject us or discard us. Where we see a heap of broken pieces, he sees potential and the possibility of creating something beautiful and new.
He doesn’t want us to hide our brokenness. He wants to heal us in such a way that, while the cracks and scars are still visible, they are not something ugly or shameful. They are part of the beauty.
God takes our broken pieces and puts them back together in a way that displays his glory, because it is in the cracks and in the scars that we see evidence of healing and God’s power to restore.
I think of the wedding I played at, for a couple who had been married previously, to one another. In the time since their divorce, each of them had separately come to faith in Jesus and their broken relationship had gradually been restored. Now they were remarrying- and there was something about the history of brokenness that made the restoration especially beautiful.
I think of a friend who has a history of immense brokenness, including drug and alcohol addiction and time in prison. There will always be scars, but I know few people who shine with the love of Jesus as much as he does or who have such a desire to reach out to others who are broken. The depth of the brokenness he has known only goes to show that the love of Jesus can reach even deeper.
It doesn’t mean that every situation will be restored here on earth. Some marriages don’t mend, some people never break free from addiction, there are times when the loss remains and the healing never comes.
But even then, as Eric Liddell puts it: “God is not helpless among the ruins.” Although it may be very different from the original, God can still make something beautiful.
When Jesus rose from the dead, his scars remained but, while they were a reminder of pain and suffering, they were also a reminder that evil does not have the final word. They were a testimony to God’s awesome power. St Thomas Aquinas writes, “He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.”
And I think there is a lot of truth in the statement that “afterward many are strong in the broken places.” The places where we have known brokenness and experienced God’s healing are the places where we have empathy and compassion for others who are broken. They are the places where we have a story to tell and where we have credibility to minister to others. They are the places where we can speak hope and shine light into the darkness.
So maybe we should learn from the art of Kintsugi. Maybe we should accept our brokenness and stop trying to hide it, but instead hand the pieces to God and see what he can do and what beauty he can create in us.
I discovered the concept of Kintsugi in “Mosaic of Grace” by James Prescott, which will be released on 13th February. It is always a bit of a risk to agree to be on a launch team for a book when you know very little about the author or his writing. However, having read the first few chapters, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, which speaks powerfully 0f God’s grace in the broken places of life. I’ll be sharing more soon, but it is one to look out for.