by Steve Jensen | 4-minute read
The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, off the cost of Japan left behind a broken nation. 15,899 people died. 6,157 people were injured. 2,219 went missing. Over 120,000 buildings were flattened and another 280,000 partially collapsed. The event’s price tag came to over $235 billion, making it the single most costly natural disaster in history. Beyond the physical and financial devastation was the frightening reality of radioactive particles released into the air and water for miles around the Fukushima power plant. The nation was broken.
The numbers, as with any natural disaster, could not begin to describe the stories of loss experienced by individuals and families. But it was into the midst of those stories that an artist named Kunio Nakamura traveled with his simple gift of healing. His gift was kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of filling cracked ceramic vessels with a mixture of lacquer and precious metal such as gold, silver, or platinum. Victims of the tsunami who had been able to salvage some personal items brought their broken bowls, plates and teacups that held sentimental value. Children brought not only their toys they found in the rubble of their homes, but also cups and bowls belonging to loved ones who passed away.
Nakamura then set out to mend each item with skill, making each one more beautiful than before. People not only went away with a functional vessel, but they now possessed a special work of art created by a master craftsman.
To create a kintsugi masterpiece, the broken vessel is prepared by carefully examining the broken lines, sanding the edges to be repaired, and then joining the pieces together with the metal that would best portray the vessel’s beauty. The art, according to legend, began in the late 15th century when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent his favorite tea bowl to China to be repaired. When it came back with ugly metal staples, Japanese craftsmen set out to provide something more pleasing for the powerful lord.
Kintsugi is a beautiful picture of what Christ does in the life of individuals when he redeems us from sin. We are, as Paul describes, jars of clay. And because of our sin, we are broken — useless and ugly. But Christ mends us, goes to the very source of our brokenness and heals that which had made us undesirable and destined for the refuse heap of eternity. As artist Makoto Fujimura points out:
“The resulting tea bowl, mended by a master, is far more valuable than the original. The Christian journey is to mend, to make new, to pour God’s gold into the cracks.”
Imperfect … and beautiful
And beyond the beauty of Christ revealing himself in our sufferings, kintsugi illustrates the way in which our mended beauty can impact our relationships with one another. Another Japanese aesthetic value is mono no aware. This represents a compassionate sensitivity for, or identification with, the object in question. Applied to our relationships, these mended cracks made visible to others can elicit compassion and identification in others — elements needed for unity in the body of Christ. It also invites others to join with us in the beauty that is Christ’s mending. When we see a brother or sister’s mended and beautiful cracks, we are reminded that God can do the same in our lives as well. We need such people in our midst who, rather than presenting a superficially perfect life to others, show us that our imperfect and redeemed life is normal. And beautiful to Christ. And, indeed, our imperfection is something in which to boast, in much the same way the owner of a kintsugi cup can boast of her good fortune.
Steve Jensen was born in Japan to missionary parents in the mid-1950s. He visits the country often and calls it home. His love for Japan and its culture includes being a sponsor of Anderson Japanese Gardens here in Rockford. He is married, father of three daughters (including Jessi Uran) and grandfather of six. He works as a financial advisor in the Lake Geneva, Wis., area. For over 20 years Steve served in a variety of ministries, including Joni and Friends, where he published a number of books with Joni Eareckson Tada. More recently, he authored the book The Christmas Owl with artist Shannon Hallstein, which First Free Rockford published in 2016.