someone i love was shattered this week. it shattered me.
and it got me to thinking about kintsugi, the japanese art of repair when a bowl or a vessel is shattered. in this craft as ancient — and poetic — as any still practiced on earth, the crack isn’t simply glued, the pieces reassembled. it isn’t hoped that no one will notice, that the brokenness will be hidden, kept secret.
the crack and its repair are illuminated. literally. powdered gold, most often, but sometimes silver or platinum, is sprinkled into lacquer resin. the vessel is veined boldly, radiantly. if a piece of the vessel has been shattered into splinters, the missing piece — the absence or abyss — becomes invitation for abundant gold compound, a gilt vein pooling into eddy or island or pond. golden pond of patching together.
it’s a practice that dates back, at least, to the 15th century. and, so the story goes, it may have originated when a powerful japanese shogun by the name of ashikaga yoshimasa broke one of his prized chinese tea bowls, and sent it off to china for repair. what came back was a bowl mended with ugly metal staples. the shogun, somewhat shattered by the ugliness, ordered his craftsmen to come up with a more beautiful means of reassembling, of repair.
kin = golden + tsugi = joinery
kintsugi. golden joinery.
it’s the art of embracing brokenness. it’s craft, yes, but even more so it’s philosophy, a philosophy that draws from the japanese understanding of wabi-sabi, which is to behold the beautiful in imperfection, impermanence.
at heart, it’s a knowing that the fracture doesn’t mark the end of the object’s life, but rather embodies an essential moment in its history. it’s worn because it’s been woven into the fabric of daily life, and daily life offers up bumps and bruises and tears and tatters. the more it’s engaged in the depths of day after day, the more likely it’ll be knocked around, jostled, sometimes even broken.
so, too, the human heart.
“the vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. this poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself,” writes christy bartlett in flickwerk: the aesthetics of mended japanese ceramics.
to be engaged in the drama of the human theatre — that place called being alive — is to be exposed to shattering.
yet isn’t the redemption found in the truth — resounding truth — of hemingway’s glorious line from a farewell to arms:
“the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
or, in the infinite wisdom of rumi, the sufi mystic:
“the wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
so that, today, is my prayer. that the shards disassembled, strewn and scattered across the plains of life, in those darkest hours known to humankind, are not merely slapped back into some smoothed-over order, some half-baked pass at hiding away the fracture.
but that, as inspired by buddhist wisdom, we come to a deep understanding of the truth of golden joinery. that if perhaps we can find love for the whole of who we are — the broken, the fractured, the piece that’s forever lost — we might discover not simply strength but radiance in the stuff we find to patch ourselves back into a whole.
and in so doing we become all the more beautiful because of where we’ve been broken. and where the Light now finds a way in.
watch this kintsugi master at work (and, yes, it’s without sound): golden joinery video
i know, i know, i promised that proper porridge post. it’s bubbling away on the back burner, i promise. this just wasn’t the week for a clump of oats. although they fortify me many a morning.
have you ever considered the truth that our brokenness makes us more beautiful? have you discovered that, indeed, the Light pours in in those places where once we’d been shattered, that in gathering up the pieces, in patching the whole together, we might begin our repair by sprinkling flecks of radiance? aren’t these the precise fault-lines where God finds His opening, where God infuses the breathtakingly beautiful?
Beautiful. Thank you.
From Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”
The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
So very sorry for your shattering and that of your lovey. Heart’s prayers for you, with love, as ever. xo
oh, the breathtakingness of friends who answer rumi with leonard cohen, who nod to hemingway, and offer up lines that read: “there is a crack in everything/ that’s how the light gets in.”
love you with all my heart, my beautiful friend. you just infused my heart with a blast of resurgent joy. xoxo
As I wrote in “mended with gold” back in September or October of 2014, I find copious amounts of soul-filling gold in nature. Without nature’s curative ore – golden song of birds, golden light at day’s end, trees fluttering gold in autumn, sweet crocus cups gilding my doorstep in spring – I’m convinced the shattered places in my heart would be gaping open still…. So many of us are walking works of kintsugi, of “golden joinery,” don’t you think so? We piece ourselves back together with bits of gold from the sources available to us… While I would wish brokenness on no one, it’s an unavoidable part of life…. In the presence of a dear one’s shattered heart, all I can do is draw from what little gold is within me and offer it with love, and with prayers to the Keeper of All Celestial Gold. This is my offering to you today, sweet friend, and to the shattered heart of your dear one…. xoxo
oh, dear, i am just finding these words — spectacular words — and my arms are quivering as i type. “curative ore.” gold in nature. “draw from what little gold is within me and offer it with love…..”
you are pure gold, my friend. all of us filling in our cracks and brokens…..
bless you. thank you. what a miracle the day you wafted over to the chair…..
I think of my scars, literally, my physical scars, as my gold-filled kintsugi. Today a physical therapist expressed concern over them, even began weaving a tale of the negative consequences of what could have “gathered” there over the years. How could I tell her that I have no concerns about them. I love them, my badges of bravery.
wouldn’t it be beautiful if all of our scars, the bodily ones anyway, could be filled in with gold dust? and we shone? i love that you embrace your badges of bravery. they make our bodies so much more, well, storied.
Oh, Bam dear, another entry of such wisdom about blessed brokenness..
those who arise from it, radiant, shining, renewed, are the ones who draw us to higher aspirations, hope and determined acceptance. Wish the mended shatteredness were apparent, so that we could call those souls aside and plum the depths of their story… the brokenness and overcoming much more a telling tale than those shards artistically covered to hide the tragic fall…. I continue to miss you, little one, but never fail to find your
particularly comforting balm on a day in need of golden mending…
bless you, dear mary, bless you!
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