Kintsugi: The Art of Healing the World’s Broken Pieces

I am feeling emotionally and spiritually raw.  Most people I have talked with this past week say they are afflicted with a dispiriting malaise.    As the images, stories, options and opinions regarding Israel and Gaza flood various media spaces, my psyche bounces between anger and sadness.  The anger coalesces around the sadistic dimension of the attack, the need for revenge, along with the resentment which surfaces because so many of the proposed responses to the attack on October 7 include more brutal violence.  The sadness over all this can melt into a paralyzing hopelessness; the feeling that there is nothing that can be done.  That we can only wait for the worst.

Unspeakable violence has taken place.  And we can anticipate that violence will continue.  There are admonitions from various military and foreign policy professionals that the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas follow the rules of war, which means that the violence needs to be confined within the international law protocols of proportionality, and distinctions need to be made – on the ground, between combatants and civilians.  Children need to be protected.  And everything should be done to keep other countries and factions from being drawn in.  Those protocols (along with many others) are important, and need to be followed.

Minimizing violence is preferable than wanton violence.  But there is still violence.  There will be endless arguments over what measure of violence is necessary and/or justified.  And the psyche will continue to bounce between anger and sadness. Or at least mine does.

I am discovering that there is a demarcation between anger and sadness.  Sometimes it is so faint that anger and sadness flow in and out of each other so fluidly that we end up living with emotional whiplash.  Other times the demarcation is deep – and raw, jagged and unpredictable; and anger and sadness become hostile strangers to each other.  In many ways our riven psyches reflect the brokenness of the world.

Many are asking, and I am wondering – is it possible for the world to be healed?  Violence may settle a score, but inevitably creates more scars.  Strategies fueled by anger end up keeping people separated from one another, and prolonged sadness renders people isolated from each other.  Violence ends up filling the vacuum.  And everything feels more dangerous and dispiriting.

There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi.  It involves taking broken pieces of pottery and mending the breakage with a lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.  The result is more beautiful – and often stronger, than the original bowl or pot.  The repair transforms broken shards (the lines of demarcation) into a striking – and valuable, wholeness.  (The image that introduces this post is a photograph of a kintsugi bowl.)

The world needs to engage in a cultural application of kintsugi.  To employ strategies and deploy resources that can transform the brokenness that we feel internally and can see globally — into an image of wholeness and hope.  We have the resources – prayer, diplomacy, acts of compassion.

And nonviolence.  The anger side of me reacts viscerally:  nonviolence? Are you kidding?   Nonviolence may have some purchase in the classroom, church or the sedate halls of power, but it has no place in the turmoil of war.  And the sadness side of me responds:  nonviolence is giving up or giving in.  Nothing can be done.

Nonviolence is more than a philosophical concept.  Nonviolence is a strategy.  As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in his six principles of nonviolence, nonviolence involves struggle, not inaction. Struggle comes in many forms.  One way is to acknowledge that it takes time and humility to grasp the complexity of the issues; both of which are currently in short supply.  Nonviolence is passive physically but strongly active spiritually.  How can our faiths and philosophies help us to accept the dignity we all receive as God’s children, and our inalienable righs to be protected in order to pursue life?   Nonviolence seeks not to defeat or humiliate, but to create reciprocal understanding.  Its end is reconciliation. Nonviolence is directed at evil actions, not the people who commit the actions.  All histories and stories need to be honored, and collective punishment as a tactic to gain security has always failed in the long run.    Nonviolence refuses hate; it finds the neighbor in everyone.  Nonviolence refuses fatalism; it has a deep faith in the future.

Nonviolence takes work.  Lots of work, undergirded by hope and commitment.  The strategy of nonviolence is the kintsugi we need to apply to the shards created by the calamity in Israel and Gaza – and the other arenas of violence across the globe that threaten to shatter the world into broken pieces.  The cultural and spiritual kintsugi of nonviolence has the potential to heal, and to transform the ugliness — if not into beauty, then into an image and landscape we can live with.

I want to conclude with a prayer by my colleague Bishop Steven Charleston, which speaks to the crisis we face: 

      Oh God, I pray for your peace to troubled lands, in places where people fear each day, in cities or villages under threat of danger.  I pray your peace into the hearts of those who hate, into the minds of those who live in anger, of those who long for revenge.  The hot winds of war sweep over so many lives, dear God, terror and cruelty following in their wake.  I do not know what else to do, but stand here making my appeal to heaven.  Peace I pray.  Peace against all the odds, peace without compromise, peace strong and enduring, peace so children never worry as they go to sleep.




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