From the Psalter:
I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 31:12 (BCP Verson) – January 24, 2014.)
It might strike some as odd that of all the myriad metaphors and poetic images in the Psalter this this one, “I am as useless as a broken pot,” speaks to me most loudly.
About 15 years ago, serving in a different parish than the one where I am now rector, I suffered a period of severe depression. A couple of years of treatment on anti-depressant medication, cognitive therapy, and (most importantly) working with a spiritual director got me through it.
What didn’t get me through it was the support of the church as a community. There was none to speak of.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. There were church members who were great and on whom I could (and did) rely. But, in general, as a community, the parish where I’d been rector for five or so years at that point was of little or no support. In fact, when I informed the vestry and then the whole congregation of my diagnosis (after trying to hide it for several months), there was an influential woman in the parish who said to the senior warden (knowing full well I could overhear), “We’ll have to ask the bishop to pull him out of here. We can’t afford to support him while recovers; we don’t even know if he will recover.” She was not alone in her sentiment.
Truthfully, I almost agreed with her. I was as useless as a broken pot! What parish would want me to be their priest?
Thing about broken pots, however, is that they aren’t really useless. Even if broken beyond repair, the busted shards can still be put to use. And if the pot can be repaired, it can be even more useful than before.
In Japan, they practice the art of kintsugi. The word translates as “golden joinery” and refers to the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer resins containing powdered precious metals. It has been called “talismanic proof that imagination has the power to make ill fortune good.” Its legendary origins date to the late 15th century, when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged tea bowl back to China for repair. It was returned fixed with ugly metal staples. Japanese craftsmen, offended by the ugliness of the repair, sought and found method of fixing the broken pottery that could make a broken piece look as good as, or better than, new.
The possibilities presented by kintsugi, the new beauty it brings to the repaired broken pot, help us to see the value of a broken vessel. Where we might previously have seen in a broken pot or a broken person only trash, something or someone to throw away because we can’t afford to keep it or support the person, kintsugi permits us to see the possibility, even the likelihood, of a greater strength that follows healing. Kintsugi is good news for the broken. In a real sense, it is gospel and the gospel is kintsugi.
If we can see with “kintsugi eyes,” we may be more gentle with the people and the things around us that experience brokenness. And when we are broken ourselves, the promise of kintsugi, the promise of the gospel allow us to be hopeful.
I am grateful to those in my prior congregation who didn’t listen to the influential member and seek my removal, who were willing to give me time to heal, who believed in the possibility of repair. It was a learning experience; it was kintsugi for me. It taught me to believe in, preach, and try to live by a kintsugi gospel.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
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