We live in extreme times when tragedies abound and even a comic movie can provoke terrorist threats. On one hand, everyone is interconnected through the World Wide Web; on the other hand, the fault lines that divide people keep growing wider. While people are aggressively hacking the web and “fracking” the earth the ice of the protective polar caps keeps breaking apart and melting. It is hard not to notice that the cracks in the world keep getting bigger as everything seems to be either threatened or threatening.
The cracks in the human heart also grow deeper as children are mercilessly massacred in schools by deranged individuals and by those claiming to serve a higher purpose. Schoolgirls are kidnapped and enslaved by armies and college students slain by drug cartels. Unarmed youth are shot down by those sworn to protect and serve others, while some claiming to uphold the ideals of freedom defend the tactics of torture. People protest and plead with lawmakers and leaders to do something to bring even a momentary sense of justice to a world falling apart at the seams.
While anguishing over reports of both cultural and natural tragedies I keep thinking of the old Japanese practice of kintsugi or “golden repair.” The idea behind this ancient ceramic art includes the sense that when something valuable cracks or breaks it should be repaired carefully and lovingly in a way that adds to its value. Thus, the cracks and fault lines in a valuable bowl would be filled with a lacquer made of resin containing powdered gold. Such a golden repair does not try to cover up the cracks in the vessel or deny the facts of the matter. Rather, the cracks and splits and broken places become filled with gold. Beauty appears exactly where the worst faults previously existed and the golden scars add to the living story and to the value of the container.
As a piece of “living philosophy,” golden repair suggests redemptive practices through which the damages of history and the tragic mistakes we make with the fragile vessels of both nature and culture might be repaired. Like any genuine process of healing and making whole again, golden repair requires that we first acknowledge and carefully study the exact faults and divisions that damage the shared vessels of our lives.
If we see the globe of the earth as a living, sacred vessel that needs artful repairs we might imagine ways of helping it heal. If we could admit more readily to the tragic injuries that divide one group from another we could replace the bloody damages with golden lines that serve to remind us of the fragility of life as well as the possibilities of repairing shattered dreams and redeeming broken lives.
The bowl of the earth is large and the deep fractures left by the weight of history are too great for any single idea or practice to repair it all. The wounds to the heart of humanity are too extensive and grievous for any single belief or ideology to heal it all. Yet, the mythical sense that the darkest times can produce a golden light of renewal permeates most religious visions and gives us countless practices and traditions that include Hanukkah and Christmas, Solstice and Festivals of Light and New Year celebrations of all kinds. The instinct to gather together in the season of darkness and in the times of tragedy is ultimately deeper and greater than the fault lines that form on the surface of the bowl of life.
Gold is hidden in dark places and that which is golden inside people is more valuable and ultimately more enduring than all the surface differences and divisions that cause the cracks in culture and the biting divisions of life. Everyone gets wounded in this world and everyone has within them some golden qualities that can serve to heal the wounds of time and the traumatic effects of human tragedy.
Golden repair depends upon a realization that there is something valuable and essentially beautiful that is worth preserving and sharing. It requires an understanding that beauty and truth are golden lines that can appear in the cracks of this world, in places where culture and nature collide and where people tragically divide. It is easier to adopt the tactics of terrorists than to stand for beauty and truth and the possibility of freedom here on earth. It is easier to vote out of fear and confusion to further arm all elements of society and pretend that safety and trust will somehow be preserved.
Because each person has some golden qualities and a unique genius to bring to the world, each has the capacity to do some golden repair. Because the troubles of the world have grown so great and encompass both culture and nature, each person can find a crack nearby that can be turned into a golden seam. Golden repair is needed in all the communities where tragedy has torn people apart, in all the places where trust has been shattered, where justice has been denied, where the earth has been ripped open and blindly exploited, where the healing presence of great forests have been turned into broad, unholy scars.
As the world around us seems to grow darker and more threatening we can either hide in terror or turn to the work at hand and find a crack that needs tending or a gap that needs healing. The practice of golden repair can begin wherever old wounds divide people; but also where the increasing tragedies of violence and suicide leave people broken in spirit and at odds with the underlying beauty of life. What we now call “holidays” were once holy days intended to bring a sense of wholeness and light in the times of greatest darkness. Like golden repair, the effort to make the world beautiful and holy was not based upon covering up the wounds of life or denying the damage done to the world. There may be no better time to turn towards each other and to face the cracks in the world than the present moment when the world needs so much healing and repair.
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