by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for January 21, 2018
The possibility of breakage is part of everyday living. In our bodies, we can break bones and split open skin. With our words, we can both affirm and wound. Promises and relationships can be nurtured or shattered. Carelessness, inattention, accident, indifference–all can break both objects and hearts.
A perfection-seeking consumer culture finds little or no value in things that are imperfect, flawed, in need of repair. This culture tells us that what is damaged, split, or smashed must be hidden, kept out of sight, or discarded and tossed into the trash.
We know from experience that returning broken heirlooms or artifacts to anything resembling wholeness can be an especially difficult task. Antiques Roadshow admonishes us that telltale cracks or chips or well-intentioned touch-ups can greatly diminish the worth of treasured objects, causing them to lose whatever value they might once have held.
We name things that are spilled or spoiled, burnt or torn, as “ruined,” with little hope of restoration. To mend or alter is much more challenging than to create from scratch. To rescue the soup into which a shaker of salt has tumbled requires skills bordering on the miraculous.
Yet there can also be a form of beauty in what is broken or worn or in need of repair and restoration. What if, instead of lamenting the flaws in our possessions and ourselves, we approached them as teachers pointing the way towards a new practice of wholemaking? Our spiritual traditions emphasize the call to treat people and animals and also inanimate objects with respect, care, and reverence, no matter what their condition. Our efforts to recycle, to see the potential in what is old or used, remind us that we are reincarnating something that would otherwise be forever lost or forgotten. In memorable lyrics, composer Leonard Cohen makes the case for the lessons of breakage and the imperfections in our lives by renaming them as graced: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The Japanese art form, kintsugi, finds profound beauty in what is broken. Kintsugi is believed to date back to the 15th century when the favorite bowl of a shogun was shattered. Efforts to repair the bowl with metal staples, the custom of the time, diminished the bowl’s appearance, so the disappointed shogun enlisted a craftsman and charged him with this task: find a method of restoration that not only repairs the bowl but actually enhances its original beauty.
That method, kintsugi, uses lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum to fill in the cracks. The precious metals don’t hide the damage that’s been done but instead actually highlight and draw attention to what is cracked, transforming what was viewed as a flaw into a prominent part of the new art form.
There’s a contemplative dimension to the practice of kintsugi. It invites the artist to spend time with brokenness, not to fear it but to mine its depths, to become intimate with it. Kintsugi demands that the artist listen to and learn from the past history or spiritual background of the item being restored. It requires a worldview that is able to discover in the broken, the old, and the seemingly useless a surprising witness to a new and profound type of beauty.
Today and every day, may we embrace the artistic and spiritual practice of kintsugi. May we see beyond surface appearances. May we open ourselves to a way of looking at the universe that finds potential for the beautiful in what is damaged and flawed in ourselves and in others. May the Holy One who holds us in tenderness show us our own beauty even when, perhaps especially when, we look at the fragments of our lives and cannot imagine any dimension of the beautiful in them. May this same Holy One continually fill in the cracks and lead us and our world into a place of wholeness.
Sit in a place of stillness.
Place before you a photo of an item that is visibly broken, or hold in your hands an object that is cracked, chipped, worn. Gaze at this.
What moves within you as you spend time in the presence of brokenness or imperfections?
Where in yourself or another have you recognized the potential for a new dimension of the beautiful?
Ask the Holy One to reveal to you your own singular beauty, and give thanks.
Please hold in your prayer all those who will be part of these upcoming events I’ll be leading in the near future:
January 26-28: Directed Prayer weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA
February 4-9: Guided Retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM) in Dubuque, Iowa.
Many thanks for your remembrance of all of us!
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