On the beauty of broke vessels

Last night I broke a ceramic mug while washing dishes. It literally just fell apart in my hands. My son said “It’s ruined”, and I quipped “I know how it feels” as I tossed it into the garbage can.

Kintsugi, also called kintsokuroi, is the 500-year old Japanese art of repairing broken things with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. Instead of minimizing the damage, the shining metal beautifies it by outlining and drawing attention to it. 

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Our society tends to view broken objects as having lost their value, but admirers of kintsugi believe that the greatest joy is not in consumerism and replacement, but in restoration and repair. The gold-filled cracks of a repaired object tell the story of its history, and add to its value rather than detracting from it.

Muneaki Shimode, at 27, is the youngest professional kintsugi craftsman. He says “The importance in kintsugi is not the physical appearance, it is the beauty and importance that stays in the one who is looking at the dish.” Shimode says this blends with the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which means “to find beauty in old or broken things”.

How many of us put our effort into trying to hide our brokenness from the critical view of the people we live and work with? Instead of recognizing the increase in value our experiences have given us, we keep our cracks and chips under wraps and hope no one notices any imperfection. Even years after we have healed and moved on, we don’t always feel the freedom to talk about the things that broke us, because we’re afraid of being treated like we’re not “whole”.

Why do we not see experience as a priceless commodity, and the scars of life as badges of overcoming? A broken vessel is fragile and incapable of fulfilling the purpose for which it was created, but one that has been repaired is strong, beautiful, and has a story to tell of the people who saw its value and invested time in repairing and restoring it. A crack that is mended is a strength, a fortified reminder that damage does not have to mean the end of usefulness.

We may not all be professional kintsugi craftsmen, but we can certainly learn to recognize and appreciate the beauty and value of a broken life that has been repaired, and we can work to make the Body of Christ a place where the scars of mended people are free to shine as a testament to the experience and wisdom that is born out of brokenness and pain. A broken person, seeing the beauty left behind by the repair of another person, will be encouraged and reassured that there can be healing, renewal, and beauty in the scars of their own brokenness.

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