by Kenetha J. Stanton.
This world is full of brokenness: broken homes, trauma, broken hearts, war, broken relationships, abuse, broken health, betrayals, broken dreams. None of us escapes the pain of being broken in one way or another on this journey of life.
I have had times in my life that were filled with brokenness of all kinds—a sense sometimes of not just being broken, but that even the broken pieces were being crushed into dust. In those times, one thing after another would batter me until it left my world in ruins.
There have been times when this has happened to my faith as well. I grew up believing that Christianity held all the answers. I was convinced that if I could just be a good enough Christian, I’d have the answers to all of life’s problems. I’d know how to do things right.
As hard as I worked at being a “good Christian” and following all the rules, it never worked the way I had been told it would. Over time, the illusion that Christianity as I had known it held all the answers continued to crumble. As it grew harder and harder to reconcile the judgmental answers of my childhood faith tradition with the messy world I encountered all around me, the last pieces of the faith I had known cracked and broke.
Not only was the broken container that was once my faith no longer any use to me—as a broken bowl is no longer useful—but it also left behind fragments with jagged, sharp edges that cut deeply whenever I ventured too close.
The good news is that my brokenness has never been the end of the story. In time—and often with a lot of hard work—those broken places have healed. And in the process of healing, those broken places have become a source of healing for the world around me. In this way, my brokenness is redeemed.
The Japanese have an ancient art called kintsugi that repairs broken pottery with seams of gold. The word means “golden joinery” in Japanese, and the repair work is done using a lacquer or resin that is sprinkled with powered gold.
The most common history I’ve found for this practice dates to the 15th century when a shogun demanded that a favorite broken bowl be repaired. Over time, these repaired pottery pieces became so prized that people would intentionally break items in order to have them repaired this way.
There are several related techniques for repairing broken ceramics that involve other metals—including silver, copper, or bronze—or include pieces of other ceramics to fill missing gaps. Each of these produces objects that are not just repaired, but become works of art. The broken places are highlighted in ways that bring greater beauty to the piece than would be possible without the break.
This image of a broken pottery bowl made more beautiful as it is repaired with gold in the kintsugi technique gives me a way to visualize what this redemption of my own brokenness can look like.
It reminds me that some things are valuable enough to be worth mending, rather than throwing them away. That goes for people and relationships even more than it does for possessions.
It reminds me that the goal is not to hide the scars or pretend that the broken places never existed. The goal is to find healing for those broken places in such a way that my healed wounds become a gift to the world around me.
It reminds me that even my faith can be mended again. However, as I have put the pieces of my faith back together, it no longer looks like it once did. I no longer expect my faith to give me all of the answers to life; instead, I look to my faith to help me craft better questions about life. My “bowl” of faith no longer holds certainties; it is filled with mysteries and a growing ability to rest in the unknown.
My repair of this “bowl” of faith is still a work in progress. There are still sharp, jagged edges that cut me when I am not expecting it. But I think the “bowl” of faith that is being created now is turning out to be something more beautiful and more precious than anything it ever could have been before it broke.
I guess that makes it a kintsugi-style faith that I’m creating as part of a kintsugi-style life. Holding onto this image when I’m dealing with the broken places in my life—or when I encounter the broken places in the lives of those around me—gives me the hope to keep working toward healing and to keep looking for the beauty that can be found in the scars of those places that have already healed.
It is a shame that these kintsugi techniques are not more widely known in our disposable-oriented society. Not only is there something to be said for a greater appreciation for repairing objects instead of discarding them, there is a fundamental shift in mindset when we learn to see the “scars” from the mending as works of art in and of themselves.
This world could use more kintsugi craftsman and fewer disposables. I hope you’ll join me in finding ways to create kintsugi-style mending in your own life, faith, relationships, and world as I continue to work to do the same in mine.
Kenetha J. Stanton is a writer, artist, and healer who is passionate about the theme of finding beauty in our healed broken places. More of her writing and work can be found on her website, AKintsugiLife.com. She also works as Program Manager and Assistant to the Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.