September 28, 2020 – Roger W. Lowther
One of the joys of living overseas is being able to see the world differently, sometimes in ways I would never expect.
One day when I was in Kyoto, in the Kyoto National Museum, I stumbled upon some clay bowls. Everything about the exhibit screamed, “These things are important!” They were individually encased behind panes of glass. They sat beautifully displayed on felt-covered small boxes. They each had their own special lighting, but the odd thing to me was that they were broken.
I mean, usually when something breaks, we throw it out, right? These were just bowls after all. You don’t have to dig too long or too deep almost anywhere in the world to find fragments of broken pottery. Behind the house where I grew up, next to the old stone fence, lots of broken pottery in the dirt. It’s so common, so easily broken, and so easy to replace. So tell me, why did some Japanese artist take all that time and money to fix these broken bowls, and with gold no less! Who does that? The gold was probably worth more than the bowls themselves, and it certainly did nothing to hide the cracks. If anything, it accentuated them. It was actually highlighting those broken places. The glory of these bowls was found in their cracks! Somehow, those vessels were more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken. One bowl in particular stood out to me for a whole piece was completely missing, filled in and sealed with gold.
This was my introduction to the Japanese art of kintsugi, and as I gazed at it, I thought, this . . . THIS is the gospel!
We are broken in sin. Our world is broken by sin. Yet God does not just throw us out, but rather renews, repairs, restores, redeems, and reforms. God reforms us with the gold of heaven, which never tarnishes or rusts. He is our healer, and he displays the life and death of Jesus in our fragile bodies to reveal his glory. God takes our wound and brokenness to restore us to complete and perfect health.
Kintsugi displays the gospel, where the glory of God can be revealed in fragile and broken vessels. The glory of our lives and bodies, our value and our beauty, comes from Christ displayed in our weakness—in our cracks. Paul wrote,
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10)
Ultimately, kintsugi is not about us but about Christ. We carry around in our body both the death of Jesus, through the cracks, and the life of Jesus, through the gold. Our gaps are gold; our cracks are glory. What a completely redemptive view of suffering!
“In [Christ] all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), so we do not need to, nor can we, ‘pull ourselves together.’ And that’s okay, because Christ pulls us together. Christ holds us together with the glorious riches of the golden cracks of heaven.
One book on kintsugi lists eleven types of brokenness that can be found in a bowl. The kintsugi artist not only can distinguish between various kinds of brokenness but can also see how to bring beauty out of them. There are many kinds of brokenness in our lives, but there are so many more ways God can bring beauty out of them. In the garden, the Lord God called to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). There were two people trying to hide their brokenness and shame, but God went directly to their brokenness to begin working there. God crafts our stories in such a way that we will be more beautiful because of our broken pieces.
Once after sharing this illustration with a group of people, a woman came up to me. She had tears in her eyes as she told me, “I’m like that bowl . . . I’m broken. I’m a mess, and there’s a huge chunk of my life missing.” She went on to share how her husband had passed away the previous year, and a piece of her was missing that could never be replaced. And yet, in that moment, she saw how Christ filled her holes and gaps. Christ turned her eyes away from her suffering and toward his own suffering for her.
One day, to learn more about kintsugi, my wife Abi and I went to a kintsugi workshop with a couple we were doing premarital counseling for. I figured, what better way to prepare two people for marriage than to take them to a kintsugi workshop, right? Isn’t that what you would do? Anyway, we went and I brought along a plate that had broken in three pieces when it fell from our dish rack.
You know, after that plate was mended, it became my favorite. During COVID-19 when worship was live-streamed from our living room, we always used that plate for the communion in front of the whole church. Somehow nothing seemed more appropriate to celebrate the broken body of Christ in communion.
Well, the other day, can you guess what happened? A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday evening after communion, that same plate fell again! From that same dish rack! I think it’s time to get a new dish rack. But what surprised me is that the plate didn’t break into the same three pieces as before. It actually broke in three different places. So not only was this plate more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken, but now, clearly, it was stronger as well. It was one of my sons who broke it, you know he wasn’t being careful, but I wasn’t mad. I was thankful for what he taught me. The meaning of kintsugi was even deeper than I thought. Though I guess I now have to schedule another visit to a kintsugi workshop…
Every time I see this broken dish, I think of the slain Lamb of God, in the very center of heaven itself, infinitely valuable and infinitely beautiful and infinitely strong and powerful, for all of creation to gaze upon. In fact, I’m convinced that in the pottery of heaven we will find kintsugi, forever reminding us and leading us in the eternal praise of God.