Ever since I first heard about kintsugi a few years ago, it has been one of my favorite motifs for understanding healing and redemption. As is explained in this video, kintsugi is the is an ancient Japanese art of repair. Think of a cracked vase. Rather than throwing it away because it is damaged, the cracks are filled with a powered gold resin. The cracks remain, but beautifully so. The breakage is honoured and accepted as a valuable part of the vase’s history, thereby making it more unique; more beautiful.
To apply this to our life and our faith is an obvious comparison to make, but I think it is worth a more detailed dig beneath the surface. I once had a friend who was genuinely puzzled as to why us Christians displayed so many crosses around our homes and churches so blatantly. “Surely,” he said, “if Jesus comes back again, He won’t want to be reminded of His execution?” The implication was clear: why were we so fixated over the Cross? Why were we glorifying something that was the instrument of the humiliating death of our God?
Of course, I saw his point, but he was missing out on the Resurrection, as I tried to explain. The Cross was not a humiliating defeat; it was the place of victory. This can be really easy for us to grasp in the abstract, especially if it is a concept we have grown up with or become very familiar with. But applying it to our own lives can be more challenging, and may even require great courage.
5 Things the Ancient Japanese Art of Kintsugi Can Teach Us About Healing:
1. “Trauma cannot be erased”.
Kintsugi begins with the problem: as Nerdwriter says in the video, “trauma cannot be erased.” The broken ceramic cannot, in anyway, be returned to its unbroken state. The breakage cannot be reversed.
This is perhaps one of the hardest parts of any healing process: accepting that you cannot go back to how things were before. Maybe the biggest battles in healing is simply accepting this, and it may well be the longest, hardest battle, full of anger and despair. But in time, and with care, the acceptance of this allows us to move onto the next part of healing. Kintsugi does not see the irreversible nature of the breakage as a problem, and in our lives, neither does God. God is “a God who writes straight on crooked lines” (Benedict XVI).
2. “Healing requires transformation”.
The broken ceramic that Kintsugi fixes with cannot be repaired without transformation. In our lives, this can feel desperately unfair. Why do we have to transform in order to be healed? Why do we have to go through a process we never asked for, particularly if the trauma we experienced is not of our doing?! I have grappled with this in my own life again and again. “Why this? I never asked for any of this!”
The simple response I have found is that: yes, trauma it is painful, and you would never wish it on anyone, and it is terrible, but it is not the end. Acceptance, rather than agonising over the ‘whys’ has allowed me to move forward and allow myself to be transformed.
3. Kintsugi reminds us that we are not trash.
Consider for a moment the complete uselessness of a broken bowl or mug. It is without its function, it’s very reason for being. It would be so easy to throw away. But with the art of Kintsugi, it is considered still of value, and valuable enough to repair with powered gold.
God sees the same in us. We may feel useless, without point, or damaged beyond repair, but that is not how God sees us. He does not see our functionality; He sees our worth. And He does not see pieces to be discarded, rather parts of ourselves that He comes to lovingly and expertly put back together, with something more precious than gold.
4. Shame versus trust and victory.
Back to my earlier point, why glorify the Cross? Why lift it high? Because we know it is the place where death was destroyed thanks to the Resurrection that followed. With Kintsugi, the cracks of the ceramic are not only on show, they are made beautiful.How do we get there though?
Well firstly, we need to acknowledge that shame can sometimes cloud our ability to give our pain to the Lord. Often, shame can be the experience of being disappointed with ourselves, when we don’t reach the bar we have set for ourselves. We become obsessed with our own failings. How does this lack, this deficit, in ourselves- become beautiful? We know that Christ comes in and transfigures our shame and failings, but how do we participate in that and collaborate in that process of making it beautiful? Above all, we trust. We can say, “Lord, things have not gone how I thought they were going to go, whether through my own fault or through someone else’s fault.” But more than that, when we trust, we put down our own barriers, we give over our precious pain to the Lord, and we can add, “I’m not sure Lord how you’re going to make it beautiful, but I trust that You will make it beautiful.”
This is where victory over shame comes from. This is why we can lift the Cross on high, because it’s not a failed battleground, it is a place of triumph. Trust in the Heavenly Father in the pain, open the wound to Him and allow Him to stitch it, and fill it up with His gold and His grace. God will never force His healing on us, but we only need to be open to it to receive it.
5. O Happy Fault!
I remember the first time I heard- really heard and understood- the lines of the Exsultet, the long piece of music that is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. I wasn’t sure if I had heard them correctly. “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” O truly necessary sin of Adam?! O happy fault?! What did this mean?! It means that although God does not wish suffering on us, He does use it expertly for our good, if we allow Him. I like to think of Him as the expert architect in our lives and the history of time. To God, nothing is wasted, not even our sins, or the sins of others. Not only does He not dismiss them, but He uses them to shape our healing. He turns inside out our own mistakes and constructs them into the instrument of our redemption. Out of the fallen, disobedient race of humanity He brought forth His own son, because He refused to see our mistakes as the last word. He refused to see humanity as a waste, something to be thrown away. Our broken hearts are remolded with the precious blood of His son.