In 1999 I traveled to Japan to participate in several exhibitions hosted by my dear friend Mr. Shiho Kanzaki. I arrived with gifts for all the many people that were required to make this amazing opportunity a reality for me.
After I arrived and was unpacking, I discovered that 4 of the side-fired cups that I’d brought as gifts had been broken by the baggage-handling process. Without a thought I dumped them into the waste basket in my room. Sometime later that week, someone came to my room and took out the trash.
After a remarkable 6 weeks in Shigaraki, two exhibitions, travel, fine food, new friends…my visit came to an end.
As often happens there were some “parting gifts” given by me to my hosts; and some gifts were given to me by my hosts. Among the parting gifts I received, I discovered the 4 cups….but they were all reassembled and mended with silver.
I was rather astonished, as I’d thought that putting them in the waste basket was the last I’d ever see of them. Mr. Kanzaki laughed, as he noticed my incredulity, and said: “Now, even better than when you brought them!” Remarkable: gifting back to me, the cups I’d brought as gifts…only now more valuable than they originally were.
The Japanese have a long tradition of repairing pots with gold; it’s called “kintsugi” or “kintsukuroi”. Curtis Benzele tells it this way: “The story of Kintsugi may have begun in the late 15th century, when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China to be fixed. It returned held together with ugly metal staples, launching Japanese craftsmen on a quest for a new form of repair that could make a broken piece look as good as new, or better. Japanese collectors developed such a taste for kintsugi that some were accused of deliberately breaking prized ceramics, just to have them mended in gold.
D. Westry is an American “speed painter” (“speed painting” an artistic technique where the artist has a limited time to finish the work), and this example of his work is a reminder of how perspective changes everything.
In our lives things can appear a certain way—or even be incomprehensible—when we look at it from one perspective. But when we look from another, an entirely new understanding can emerge.
God often works like this in our lives. We’re sure something is a terrible mess, and then suddenly—from the distance of time or a simple tilt of the head—God’s purposes become clear. His workings are not always recognizable, or even attractive, and we have to remember that he is always working with and through broken channels. Prayer and discernment can help us gain new perspectives and come a little closer to seeing as God does.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. …”
I just discovered Stephen Winter’s blog, Adventures in Living, where he writes about The Lord of the Rings. Just starting to delve, but here is a treasure:
Journeying in the Dark Places
Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings will know that journeys through dark places play an important part in the story. In order to become king Aragorn must journey the Paths of the Dead and lead a fell army in order to overcome the Corsairs of Umbar at Pelargir. Frodo and Sam must journey through the utter dark of Shelob’s Lair in order to enter Mordor and carry the Ring to the fires of Orodruin. And the Fellowship journey through the mines of Moria in order to find a way from the west to the east of The Misty Mountains, the greatest mountain range of Middle earth.
I did not use the word, “must” when speaking of this last journey because it is debated vigorously by the company. Boromir is entirely set against taking this way through the ancient kingdom of the Dwarves, now long abandoned, and argues his case with vigour. “I will not go…not unless the vote of the whole company is against me.” Legolas does not wish to go either and the hobbits are simply afraid of this journey in the dark. Gandalf is sure that it is the only way but Aragorn warns him, “It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!”
But in the end there is another, “must” that determines their course of action. Their camp is attacked by wargs, the wolves, the “hounds of Sauron”, and in order to escape them they make for the doors of Moria. And when they get to the doors there is one more “must”. The company is attacked by a foul creature in the waters that guard the gate and are only able to escape it by entering the mine with the doors shattered behind them. They now have only one way out. They must journey some days through the darkness and all the perils that might be concealed there.
None of us willingly choose such dark journeys but the great spiritual traditions teach their necessity if we are to find our true selves. In the Christian tradition is the dark journey of Holy Week that must be taken if we are to come, fully alive, to Easter Sunday. The intention of this week is to remind us of this reality at one point in each year; the reality being that it is a journey that none of us can ultimately avoid, there is a “must” about it. Our fear when we begin such a journey is that there is no certainty that we will come safely to the other side. The words inscribed over the gates of hell in Dante’s Infernocome to mind here, “Abandon all hope all you that enter here.” The temptation that assails us in all dark journeys is the temptation to despair. Dante shows that there is a way through and that is to go boldly if fearfully into its very heart. And as he journeys through hell he sees signs everywhere that it has been harrowed by Christ who entered the dark in order to defeat it and set its prisoners free if they wished to come with him.
The Fellowship “must” take this journey if they are to some safely to the other side of the mountains and for one member it will be a very dark journey indeed. For him above all this journey will be both terrible and yet also a wonderfultransformation. If when we “must” make our journeys we can take them with the same bold faith it will lead to our transformation too. We too will become “fully alive” and our true selves.
He points a finger at me, shakes it like a wand, like a prayer, like shaking me awake.
“I need to talk with you.”
Gordon’s on his tiptoes, looking for me through the lunch crowd, punctuating each word high in the air with his left pointer finger. “I’ve got a question for you.” He’s stabbing the air. I feel poked in the chest, pushed up against the back of my chair. I reach for water, something to wet a thick, scratchy throat.
A question? What kind of question? Why ask me a question? How can he ask anything of me — and think he’d get anything worthwhile?
I live in the curve of questions, sheltered under and arch of mystery, all my declarative periods couched with a questioning mark.
I know little and answers elude me and my world is wide expanses of wondering andseeking is the way I find my way. Gordon’s scanning to see if there’s an empty chair at my table.
He’s carrying his plate high, his lunch, a green salad, a pulled pork sandwich, baked beans. I lay down my fork, all those tines.
“But…” Can he hear me over this din? “I won’t have answers.”
“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” — Billie Mobayed
To me, that sounds like a pretty good deal–but, our God, in His incredible love, not only fills the cracks in our lives with gold, but transforms our very lives into a vessel of pure gold. Amazing love.
“Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. . .”