There are some days when I awake firmly believing that I have been gifted with someone else’s fingers during the night as nothing I attempt to pick up wants to stay in my hands from the pesky five pence piece which readily slips from hand to desktop to floor, to the second or third attempt at picking up the post from behind the door, or even the inability to turn just one page of the local newspaper over at a time. Thankfully such momentary awkwardness does not usually cause much harm, merely just frustration with the ineptness of myself. On occasion though something more significant can take place, perhaps when something hits a hard surface with an amount of force that causes lasting damage, at best an almost unnoticed chip or blemish, at worst severe, lasting and very obvious scarring, rendering it incapable of fulfilling its previous use, forever bearing the mark of unintentional and accidental clumsiness. So often sadness pervades such moments as they take place during times when we have been in the process of enhancing the item through the art and craft of washing or dusting. At which point we can almost hanker after the environment in which Dicken’s character Miss Havisham lived, an image which may have prompted Quentin Crisp’s witticism: “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.” Alas, I personally couldn’t survive the prospect of the accumulation of a month’s dust let alone four years.
Our response to such times of breakages and near or total destruction are mixed and varied. In some instances we attempt to pick up the pieces and begin our own “Repair Shop” system of restoration. Discovering in the process that we have set ourselves a difficult task, often frustrating, needing more skills than we have personally been gifted with not least an inexhaustible well of patience. And, yes, sometimes disposing of the item, in what may appear to be a thousand guilt-inspiring pieces in the dustbin is ultimately the only option, some even glad of the accident that had befallen the casualty as they were never that enamoured with it in the first place, having received a gift in someone else’s taste, or even purchased the object on a personal whim.
Centuries ago the Japanese devised a method of repairing broken pottery known as either Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) or Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) which rapidly became an art form involving the use of powdered gold, silver or platinum being mixed with a lacquer to mend the areas of damage. From this a philosophy grew, acknowledging the fact that breakage, damage and repair are as much a part of the history of an object as its original intention, usage and times of appreciation and enjoyment. Far from being detrimental to the former near-perfect, undamaged item, flaws and imperfections became understood as tangible signs of its use and journeying. Displaying pottery – complete with their “golden repair” – offered a reminder that the items’ service had not reached an end when it could no longer be used for its original, intended purpose. In its own right, what might be seen by some merely as a repaired object, had its own story to tell those whose eyes fell on it and were prepared to enquire and listen.
With this mindset, what began in the workshop of skilled craftspeople with imagination as a means of repairing physical damage to something that held great sentimental and emotional attachment soon took on a spiritual dimension, so much so that the owners of ceramic vessels even damaged them purposefully in order to have them repaired, the foisted marks being accentuated by the predominantly gold lacquer adhesive. Despite being a step away from the original intention, and with no pedigree or lineage, these object d’art soon became highly fashionable, not to mention expensive.
Lent offers us the two-fold opportunity of identifying the flaws, damage and imperfections within ourselves and subsequently to begin working on a spiritual process of repair that will reduce their size and ultimate impact on our lives, the relationships that we enjoy with others and ultimately, Almighty God. We are often skilled practitioners in recognizing the chips and defects of those who populate our lives, but less good at seeing faults that lie closer to home. If unsure of what your limitations might be ask a friend … just ensure that it is someone that you are wanting to remove from your Christmas card list, as you will probably not like or welcome the honesty of their response especially if they produce a list ! The words of Jesus regarding the “speck” in the eye of another and the “plank” in our own come to mind. Perfection is something that we have been led to believe is within the grasp of all of us, and with others actually seeming to arrive and take ownership of their newly acquired status, thanks to skilled advertising a primeval hunger and thirst at the core of humanity is well and truly fed. Those who wilfully damaged their pots in order for them to have the hallmarks of an artificial journey and life of service reflect the desire that was an acknowledged facet of our first parents in Garden of Eden, whose craving and desire was to “be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). This led them to taste “of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3:3). Sadly, for them, it resulted in banishment, and the leaving gift of a set of clothes each and a lifetime of hard work.
Listening to St. Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus this weekend we can be stunned by its brevity: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” (Mark 1:12 – 13) It recalls the experience of Jesus entering His own time of spiritual repair. He moves into the province of the wild beasts with His own human flaws, limitations, and defects, there within Him not due to any Divine clumsiness or oversight but by the intent and purpose of the yearning desire of our God to express Their love for us by sending “One like us in all things” (Hebrews 4:15) in the Word made flesh. It is the flesh of the human wrapping paper in which this ultimate gift arrives that Jesus takes into a place of temptation.
he work of the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness and of the angels who ministered to Him is to strengthen Him for the road ahead. In that desolate workshop they used their skills, similar to those of the Japanese craftspeople when mending pottery or ceramic. Their Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) will highlight the humanity of Jesus – very much evidenced by St. Mark – allowing Him to be “moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41) for the plight of his fellow human beings so much so that He will reach out to them and perform His own art and craft of repair in their broken lives. As the stories of many of these are recorded by the evangelists so the entire story of the individual is reported. Their previously fractured, broken, seemingly disadvantaged state of being is as much a part of who they are as the restored, joined together, mended, renewed and repaired selves.
The temptation manifested in a refusal, denial, fake modesty approach to the fact that we’ve hit a hard surface at some point on our life journey that has caused a microscopic chip or long-lasting, although all too often well hidden, impression upon us will render the Holy Spirit redundant and there will be a lot of usually busy and ministering angels twiddling their thumbs (or perhaps catching up on some long overdue harp playing !). With honesty and integrity may we each face Lent 2021 well and through it, as well as from it, grow closer to Almighty God and one another, as well as valuing the knocks and bumps of life’s journey that have, once worked upon by the Divine Craftspeople, enhanced through Their own form of “golden repair”, the person that each of us is and cherished for being.
Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas