Kintsugi, the art of scars and the value of repair

kintsugi2Things break. We break things. We break. But what do we do with the pieces?

When I have broken things I have sometimes pretended it’s never happened (playing the innocent) or I have hidden the evidence. When I’ve broken I have pretended it’s never happened, or I have hidden the shame. This is shocking dishonesty.

The prophet Jeremiah knew a thing or two about brokenness and shame. The broken thing he had his eye on was the nation itself. He came to see hope in brokenness – not shame – by studying the work of a potter. The potter was making a vessel of clay and it was spoiled in the making. Instead the potter reworked it into another vessel “as seemed good to him”. He heard God say, “can I not do as this potter has done?”

There is another school of pottery which makes something of broken pieces. This is Kintsugi. Kintsugi is known as “golden joinery” because of the method of using gold dust to mend the broken pieces. The repairs themselves become the work of art. While we might be tempted to use superglue to mend a broken ornament and then turn the damage to the wall, Kintsugi works in a different way. The repair is brazen and flaunted. The breakage gives the object a story and the object becomes more valuable than it ever was before.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi has given rise to a philosophy and metaphor for life. Also known as the “art of scars” it signals a way for us to value what is broken in our lives and to celebrate what has re-paired us.

We can look at the broken pieces of our society. Those broken pieces all have labels to identify one piece from another, and we continue to break into new pieces. We’ve got new labels, more broken pieces with Leavers/Remainers. They go along with more worn labels such as Workers/Shirkers, Gay/Straight, Black/White, North/South, Red/Blue etc etc. I like the suggestion that prayer is like the gold dust of Kintsugi – when we pray we seek to make a-mends and pray for repair and reconciliation. The putting together of the pieces is the answer to that prayer.

Kintsugi is one art of scars. Writing this as we come into Holy Week I am conscious that Christianity too is the art of scars – though crimson rather than gold. Brokenness is taken with utmost seriousness. All the repair work and the reconciliations stand proud as witnesses. Repaired brokenness makes us more precious and valuable than ever.

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2 thoughts on “Kintsugi, the art of scars and the value of repair

  1. David, I’m really struck by the suggestion that prayer is like the gold dust that holds together our broken communities. Is that your idea (and if so, will you develop it?), or have others written on it (and if so, where?)

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    1. I did see someone write that the gold seams of kintsugi are the Holy Spirit. I haven’t seen it developed with reference to community brokenness. I think I prefer the interpretation of the Holy Spirit rather than our prayer. Although the gold dust could be our prayer, and God responds to our prayers by making the bond for repair and reconciliation – in which case the repairs are God’s work (through our hands or not).

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