- James Kennedy, SJ
Meditation: Kintsugi Pottery
The craft of pottery, among the oldest of human activities and traditions, has long been an image of human life and frailty, including in the Bible. In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet declares:
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand (Is 64:8).
Yet even God’s work can be broken and has been broken: our world is broken and we have experienced brokenness in our lives. Here, pottery can be a powerful image of human brokenness and pain. Once we experience hurt or pain, we cannot undo what has happened; it is with us the same way cracks in a pot don’t go away.
Look at this broken pot. I can’t guess how it came to be broken. But I do know that, lying in the sand, that broken pot cannot fulfill the end for which the potter made it. Absent a potter mending the broken pot, no flowers can be grown in it.
In Japan, broken pottery and porcelain is reverenced and a tradition developed around mending broken pottery, known as kintsugi or kintsukuroi. If the pieces of a broken bowl or vase can be recovered, master craftsmen attempt to mend and restore the item to wholeness by welding the broken pieces back together. Kintsugi, however, doesn’t merely mend a broken pot; instead, practitioners of kintsugi use gold or silver as lacquer to bind the broken shards of a pot together. In so doing, the broken porcelain is restored to wholeness, with threads of gold and silver filling the broken spaces.
Take a look at some of the photos included in this post. Like the broken pot at the top, all of these bowls were broken at some point in the past and, as you can see, there were many broken shards. Perhaps they were broken many times over, perhaps even by the same hands.
Now, look at the threads of gold that bind the once-broken shards together. In some cases, the gold is thin, like a single thread, almost imperceptible if you were not told it was there. In other cases, the gold cannot be missed, attracting the eyes immediately; indeed, in some, the gold draws your attention first.
Ultimately, the goal of kintsugi is not just to fix a broken vase or bowl; rather, kintsugi is about making something completely new, something that is far more beautiful than before. The master kintsugi craftsman has taken something broken, something that is flawed and has produced something more beautiful than before. Indeed, what once were flaws, what once prevented the pot or vase or bowl from fulfilling the end for which it was made is now the source of even more beauty.
“Behold, I am making all things new,” says the Lord (Revelation 21:5). To make the point explicit, see yourself in the examples of kintsugi pottery shared here. Or look online; Google has many examples of broken works of art transformed by the touch of a master’s hand. We have been wounded, yes, even broken. Or we have been doing the breaking and are responsible for broken pottery all throughout our lives.
But the broken pot is not the last word. The master has come to mend them. And, in mending them, there is more beauty than before.