Kintsugi- Beauty in Repair

I have thrown out many, many pots.  I am a potter and I am usually on a quest for perfection, beauty, and function in the pieces I make. However,  when a piece is flawed somewhere in the process of making it, it gets tossed.  Some pots I save to be broken for mosaics, but usually I make the tiles for my mosaics.  It’s so much easier to start with freshly made tiles than trying to put together bits and pieces of my pursuits of excellence.

The Japanese have a much different philosophy about their broken pots.  Instead of tossing them out, they celebrate them.  In Japan, there is an art form known as Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi).  If you are not familiar with it, Google it, the images are beautiful.  Simply put, they join the broken pot back together along the broken seams with a lacquer mixture made with gold, silver, or platinum.  Instead of starting over again like I do, they put a great amount of time and expense in highlighting the brokenness and the flaw of the vessel.  They view the brokenness and subsequent repair as just an event in the life of the object. This is quite the opposite of my practice of seeing the pot’s life as being over because it’s no longer perfect.

As I think about my own physical scars, I might not want to highlight them, but some are easy to celebrate.  The scar on my head-where a tumor was removed and the scars on my belly where my babies were removed, all of these indicate life.  Maybe I could tattoo those scars with beautiful art to celebrate them.  That’s an unlikely endeavor for me, but I like the idea.

But what about the scars you can’t see?  So many of the scars we carry around aren’t hidden under clothes and hair, they are hidden in our hearts.  They are left by careless words, absent people, missed opportunities, or the perceived absence of God.  How do we go about seeing those scars as beautiful and seeing the events or people who have broken us as part of the process in making us into something even more beautiful than we imagined?

“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  

-Colossians 1:17

What makes Kintsugi pots so stunning is not that they have broken, it’s how they are put back together.  The process of doing a Kintsugi repair is time-consuming and costly.  The Kintsugi artist usually adds the precious metal in powder form to an epoxy.  The artist then re-assembles the broken pieces with the metal-epoxy mixture applied to each edge of the broken piece.  In the end, the pot has the same shape it did to begin with, but now it has this beautiful, abstract design that the original artist could not have foreseen or imagined.

Isn’t that what Christ does with us when we let him?  The hurtful words from others can transform us into more caring and compassionate people if we bathe them in prayer for that person.  Absent loved ones force us to fill that void with something or someone else.  If we are seeking God in the midst of our loneliness, I believe He will meet us with His presence or bring along people or circumstances to make our lives feel full.  And the deep waters of life, the sickness, the tragedy, the overwhelming depression or loss, that’s where God has met me in the most meaningful and profound ways.  It is easy to fall into self-pity and over-introspection, but if I spend time in the word and am just quiet with God, He gives me peace.  This is the time when He paints all my broken edges with gold and lovingly puts me back together.  Remarkably, I come out on the other side of the deep waters more beautiful than when I waded into them.

Just like Kintsugi takes time and effort and expense, so does allowing God to do this transformative work in me.  And with enough time, the thing that was so hard for me, becomes just an event in my life that added beauty and worth.

Jennifer Chetelat

Resident Artist & Gallery Assistant