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.

PS. Here’s more about the spirituality of mending by Laura Everett

PPS. #Visiblemending is trending on Twitter

PPPS. Mending is seen as practice for “tikkun olam” – for the “mending of the world”


News of Arab Springs
reverberate down the ages
through times of austerity.
Green shoots through desert sand.

For that Arab Spring
we don’t ride with Josephs & Sons
into an Egypt promising sanctuary
dragging chains in an Egypt of plague,
with a Pharoah begging
“Moses, go.  Get me a blessing.”

For that Arab Spring
hope and moonshine
for a people on the run from oppression.
An uprising thirsty
for the blood of  lambs,
and Egyptian oppressors.

For another Arab Spring
we ride with Joseph’s son
into a full moon of another garden.
This time a lamb questions,
“do you thirst for this blood shed?”
“Is there a blessing for Pharoah?”

This Arab Spring,
an uprising for tormentors
of chalice shed for them. Cheers,
a kiss, and the strange taste of freedom.

The Bigger Picture

Photo of Kilham “tunnel” with permission.
David Hockney certainly provides the Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts. Increasingly he has rejected the viewfinder of the camera. The viewfinder of his most recent work is his own eyes and the imagination of his mind’s eye.

What Hockney sees is amazing the rest of us who haven’t practiced the art of seeing. The colours he sees in a field, a tree trunk or a forest floor are not far-fetched but are already hinted at in the subject. Many of the subjects are from his own homeland of East Yorkshire, including “the tunnel” near Kilham. The tunnel is an ordinary farm track with trees, hedgerow and tractor track, with the tunnel being formed by the trees that overarch the track.

It is a track which most of would take for granted, which we would pass by without noticing it. But Hockney treats us to his own views which he lays out on canvases that fill the room. Each view is different. He steps to one side and then another to give himself yet another point of view. He steps forward and he steps backwards. He sees it in the morning light and the evening light, when wet and when dry, in spring through to winter. He sees it in relaxed mood and when stressed and tired. There is the one scene, but so many views. There is one pair of eyes, but so many perspectives.  There is the partiality of personal insight but still such wonder. Even Hockney “only sees dimly”, because that is the human condition (1 Cor 13).

There is only so much that can go into one exhibition room. The exhibition is a sell out, even though it is open till midnight on some evenings. The rooms are crowded with people who have come to see. We are given a bigger picture which we see with our own eyes. Excitedly, many take the time to try to share what they see but it is each to their own. There is the one scene, and through one pair of eyes so many views. There is one room and so many pairs of eyes, each drawing their own conclusions.

Realising the many perspectives gives us the bigger picture. Is this the prescription that helps us see better? It is, so long as we can reconcile our views. In any room full of people there is a whole variety of views. But no bigger picture emerges if those views can’t be reconciled to each other. If our views are diametrically opposed to each other we become uncomfortable and we don’t know where to look.

Do you see me? Or are you just looking?

We are drawing to the end of Prisons Week (Nov 20th-26th) – something organised to promote prayer for all those involved in the nation’s prisons. The theme of the week this year is “Do you see me? Or are you just looking?”. This draws attention to the fact that prisoners are constantly watched and under surveillance, they are rarely seen. It is indeed very difficult to “see” someone in prison. There is a real security rigmarole involved in visiting and visiting rights are severely limited (part of the punishment). But the most fundamental obstacle preventing the prisoner being seen is that in being locked up they are locked out of society.

Guard Tower and Prison Walls

Guard Tower & Walls of Robben Island
which locked Nelson Mandela out for
18 years but which didn’t prevent him
from being brother through
walls of prejudice and hatred.

(photoby Joe Barbosa)

I have often invited prayer for prisoners (there are currently 87,652 men and women in UK prisons – a rise of 2424 from 12 months ago). I am usually met with the hostility of a few who insist we should be only praying for the victims of crime. They follow the sight line of the secular media: the prisoner should not be seen and his or her cry should not be echoed in our prayer.

This week, someone was telling me of her pre-ordination placement experience in a “category A” women’s prison. She recalls her feelings of consternation after her first Communion in the chapel with a congregation of about eight when she was introduced to her table companions – including a much villified serial killer. This group of women have been seen by God. They have heard good news and a certain freedom even though they now they must be locked out of a society that wishes for them only to have bad news for a harsh and punishing sentence.

This is profoundly challenging because we share the same bread, and we drink from the same cup. We have been called companions (companions are friends who particularly share bread) and brothers and sisters. It is usually hard to imagine sitting at a table with people who aren’t our friends but God’s choice challenges these preconceptions. Instead we are challenged to see and recognise brothers, sisters and companions on the far side of dividing walls.

Replacing repairs

Cobblers used to be in high demand

Oh dear. “The car’s knackered, we’re going to have to walk”. That was the response of someone whose car had broken down near to us yesterday. He put a brave face on the diagnosis from the RAC man (diagnosis took ten seconds!). I would have at least kicked the tyres. We had our own breakdown the other week. Our two year old washing machine was going to cost £290 to repair – the exact cost of a new replacement. It seems that everything is getting very complicated, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see what’s gone wrong. The problem with our washing machine was the electronic control board, as is the case with most broken equipment these days. Replacing is replacing repair. I used to be a regular visitor to the TV repair man with our Ferguson TX. Where is the TV repair man now?

One of the features of childhood evenings was watching my Mum darning holes in socks, referred to as “doing the mending”. Is it a lost art? Have repairs been replaced? Repairs are easier when you can see how pipes and wires have come apart and how they can be re-paired.

mendingThis quote from Dag Hammarskjold captures the wonder of mending and repair.

Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.

Brokenness featured in conversation yesterday. Relationships are easily broken. Fortunately we get well used to re-pairing ourselves from our temporary separations and breaks. But occasionally, the hurt is profound and the damage irreparable, and the longer it persists the more difficult the repair becomes. It’s as if the broken ligaments of the relationship wither till there is nothing to be re-paired. A stitch in time saves nine.

We may be able to forgive, but that may not be enough to re-pair. Surely a re-pair is impossible without something to throw a line to, something to hold on to – whether that be a word, a gesture, or understanding and remorse?

(Feigned) Remorse
There’s remorse, and then there’s remorse!

A local headteacher was telling me about a small child in his school who had kicked one of the older children. “He showed no remorse” was the head’s comment. That is a problem that child is going to have to overcome. If he doesn’t become remorseful how can those he hurts ever forgive him. What a tragic life he has in front of him unless he can learn remorsefulness. Remorse is what we can get hold of when we want to forgive and be re-paired. Instead of reparation, remorselessness brings separation.

It may be that life is too complicated for us to see how it is broken. It may be that things have become a lot more reliable. It may be that in a blame culture we have to insist that we don’t break, that we are reliable, and not liable. It may be that our business in a consumer culture has lost the hard work and deep satisfaction of repair. It may be that we can’t see how we are broken.

The Long Walk to Freedom – still


20 years ago ended a remarkable stretch as political prisoner for Nelson Mandela. The next stage of the journey is remembered with awe as Nelson continued his Long Walk to Freedom with such incredible resilience, commitment and dignity. He has been world leader for a generation leading the movement of South Africa from the dark ages of apartheid to freedom.

Astell Collins posted this tribute entitled “The Age of Grace and Timeless Wisdom”

Have you ever observed a lion bound?
Or witnessed the ants freely running around
Did you ever stop to ponder your destiny?
Journeying beyond your daily responsibility
What is the purpose of tomorrow?
If there is no comfort in times of sorrow
Could you clarify the functionality of masculinity?
And explain the multiplicity of femininity
Nelson Mandela, you have given us a proud legacy
Thus to future generations you are legendary
You have thought us your people to forgive
And have shown us that only in love can we live
Your life displayed the fundamentals of greatness
And uncovered the power of selflessness

We thank you for giving us back our home
A paradise where all of mankind has made their own
You have suffered inconceivable cruelty
To ensure the preservation of our humanity
As a people, our coming together in celebration
Demonstrates to you our sincere love and appreciation
We recognize the relevance and power of spirituality
While experiencing the beauty of our freedom in unity
Your life has become the essence of the human story
One of love and resolve, equality and destiny
You are a hero internationally and not only in Africa
So the world pauses to pay its respect to you, Madiba

And today’s prayer picks up the diversity theme:
Almighty God you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image: teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children ……


>What do you do if you want to change something? You ask permission.
What do you do if you live next door to somebody who wants to change their house, or if a builder proposes developing land opposite? You complain and you object. ‘Twas ever thus in Nimbyland.
And the way through? Thank goodness for our planning authorities so that when we want to make changes we have to ask for permission, and those who are our neighbours should realise that, make their objections and then leave it to those who are a lawful lot better than us at these things and accept the judgement – “permission granted” or otherwise.
I feel sorry for friends Jane and Bob asking for permission to change/demolish/rebuild. Suddenly they find themselves on page 2 of the local paper with friend Mark flying the preservation flag – no doubt supported by friends and neighbours around – Janet, Bob, Jo, Alice, Tom, Dick, Harry and Jemima. What a difficult situation – all have their legitimate concerns – to be weighed in the scales of justice. And through it all they continue to meet in the waiting room of the Friends’ Meeting House for Kingdom come and Peace on Earth. Meeting together, waiting together makes it so much better than avoiding one another and makes the church a Friends Meeting House – if not now, then – working/praying out how to come to terms with our differences.
That’s what we’ve been doing with our project for St Peter’s. We have been asking for permission and we will see how many people have objected, and how the Chancellor weighs the difference of opinion. Then we will be told whether we have a faculty – aka permission – or if we’ve lost. Whatever way it goes we have to then get on with our neighbours – loving them – which we have to sometimes do before we can ever like them.