Mind Matters — Kintsugi and Our Brokenness

Kintsugi, translated as “gold joinery,” is the Japanese craft tradition of repairing broken pottery with gold filled resin. Now artisans use a variety of materials to connect the shards, but the message remains the same. Instead of the mend hiding the formerly broken pieces, kintsugi proudly proclaims the damage visibly with defined lines.

In Kintsugi, the fact of brokenness represents a history beyond newness and, therefore, the object is even more beautiful.

What an allegory for our lives in a culture where new is “improved” and age is to be defied. Kintsugi can be applied to all of us so that we indeed see that we are both beautiful and strong in our broken places. With this sense, we derive meaning from our suffering, our woundedness, our aging.

The power of kintsugi was brought home to me by singer-songwriter John Flynn. I was not familiar with the term until I heard Flynn’s composition eponymously named.

The lyrics of his song bespeak how the analogy of a broken bowl made whole meets our deepest experience:

“Rejoining shattered pieces …
in a whole new way. … You
are beautiful because your
heart is broken … because
you have the wisdom, kindness,
grace … let me kiss the tears
upon your face. …”

Recently, I wrote about family. Ironically, soon after that column, I learned that a relative had died suddenly. I want to dedicate this entry on kintsugi to my extended family who now grieve the loss of my first cousin’s youngest daughter, my god child, Julie. At forty-four, she had an aneurysm and died soon after. Part of my extended family’s sense of kintsugi, I think, is in the meaning they have found in Julie’s legacy to live on in others, not only spiritually, but also by her organ donations. Her memorial service honored her giving even in death, and we were all urged to do likewise.

Information on organ donation can be found at DonateLife.net and OrganDonor.gov.