When I first heard of kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by filling the cracks with amalgam mixed with powdered gold, I was awestruck. Kintsugi is translated as “golden joinery,” but means so much more than those two descriptive words. As an art form, kintsugi points to valuing the history of something that has been broken and is made whole again in a new identity. The new, reformed whole contains both the remembrance of that which was before and also what is now – something that had been broken into pieces and is now reformed, containing the additional joining amalgam that is noticeable and traceable.
Viewing kintsugi pottery brought to mind how quickly Western culture discards the broken – broken objects, broken people, and broken relationships. We fail to see what the broken might look like if we put the resources into mending the broken. Our trash bins and landfills are filled with objects which might have been mended, but weren’t, because it wasn’t “worth the money or time” to do the mending. As a society, we find it easier and cheaper to warehouse broken people in facilities and prisons than help rehabilitate them. We have family members whom we’ve left behind, because the broken relationships required more effort and pain than we were willing to take on.
|Applying gold amalgam by brush|
I am reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this story, the father said, “. . . this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” What joy he had to celebrate the restoration of a relationship that he thought was lost forever. Here was a relationship that had been broken intentionally by the son, who had asked for all his inheritance, only to leave his father to go to a distant country, to live dissolutely, squandering all he had been given. Yes, there was poor judgment, willfulness, and selfishness on the part of the son.
And when the son fell upon very hard times, he hired himself out as a servant in the pig pen. When he came to himself, awakening one day and realizing that he could humble himself before his father, he did so. The son confessed that he had sinned against heaven and his father, and begged for mercy. The father responded by calling for the best robe in the house to be brought and a ring to be placed on the son’s finger. He was overcome with joy that what was lost was found again.
The broken relationship was mended by the father’s love and forgiveness. The beauty of the mended relationship was highlighted by placing the best robe and a ring upon the newly returned son. When the elder son rebuked the father for his acts of love and forgiveness for the prodigal son, the father said, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. . .” – echoing the philosophy that the Japanese art of kintsugi embodies.
|Gold veins on once broken cup|
Mending is about restoration, and restored relationships are something to be celebrated. If we do mending intentionally and well, it should be about putting the very best that we have into the act of restoration, giving more than just the bare minimum, giving the very best from all that belongs to us, from all that God has given us. Because the restored relationships are worth having and worth celebrating.
Kintsugi made me wonder what The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion would be like if we chose to use precious gold to mend our broken relationships. What if we poured our limited resources of time and money into being more present with one another, striving to be in person-to-person conversation, visiting the places where we make our homes and where we worship, living into the painstaking steps that build and sustain relationships? How would our relationships in Executive Council and General Convention be different? How would our relationships with our ecumenical, interreligious, and communion partners be different?
Because ultimately, God calls us all to wholeness. Mending is about choosing wholeness and choosing life. Having his prodigal son restored to him and his family made the father and the family whole again. Not having a relationship with his son, not knowing where he was, or even if he was alive, meant that the son was as good as dead to the father and the family. As Easter people who celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death upon the cross, it should matter to us that we choose life over death. As a church that has a mission, it should matter to us that we choose restoration of relationships over separation and loss. How much are we willing to give of ourselves to mend our relationships?