You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. — Psalm 2:9
At a recent panel presented by the remarkable Fresh Start Recovery Centre in Calgary, the executive director Stacey Petersen referred to the art of kintsugi — the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery using silver, gold or platinum seams — as a metaphor for an addict in recovery.
The word kintsugi means “golden joinery” and this ancient technique reflects the art of lovingly repairing, rather than thoughtlessly discarding, damaged goods. If some struggled with a “philosophy of replacement” centuries ago, we can only imagine how much more prevalent such a culture of disposal is today, especially in the western world. Everything, it seems, is expendable. If it’s broken, out it goes!
In view of this, kintsugi pottery is especially remarkable to behold. It celebrates gold and silver cracks tracing through otherwise meticulous images on previously shattered cups, bowls and plates. It is a golden craquelure, or spider web, that holds divided and uneven pieces together. It is, of course, much more than simple repair work. Done masterfully, the artist does not simply restore but creates anew, often producing something prettier, certainly more intriguing, and at times even stronger than it was originally.
I have always loved the story of the Persian carpet makers who introduced a deliberate flaw into all their masterpieces in acknowledgement that only God could be perfect. And yet the concept of kintsugi seems much more accessible to the ordinary citizen, who is surrounded by, and indeed who may embody, damaged goods.
Mr. Petersen’s apt analogy reminds us that beauty not only exists in, but also is created by, the reality of our imperfections and our struggle to improve, rebuild, renew. “We have all experienced brokenness: broken homes, trauma, broken hearts, broken relationships, lost loved ones,” he tells us. “None of us can escape the pain of being broken.” But as he goes on to implore: “Reflect on your own life and notice how every crack has made you more beautiful, more resilient.”
Kintsugi is a powerful metaphor for the art of healing, and not just for the noble and heroic journey that addicts and alcoholics undertake in recovery, but also for all of us who bring our own doubts, imperfections and failures to the world around us, and where, through faith, family and friendship, we sometimes suture the chipped or broken pieces of our lives into something stronger and more beautiful. As Leonard Cohen once put it: “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.