A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “Dark Shadows.” I wasn’t a fan of the movie, in general, but one image in it has stuck with me. Near the end of the movie, amidst a scene of devastating wreckage, we watch one character break down.
Her brokenness takes an obvious and visible form. Her exterior gets dented, like a hard-boiled egg when it’s hit against a surface. Her body literally cracks, over and over again, until she is hard to recognize as the beauty she once was. As she is shattered, her body somehow, mostly, stays together, but small pieces of her fall off, leaving empty spaces.
When you and I break, our cracks are not usually so easy to see. The physical breaks may be evident because, as in the case of my recent broken foot, we wrap and protect them until they are healed. The emotional breaks, the psychological breaks, the spiritual breaks are harder to detect. And yet they are there.
We dent. We crack. Somehow we mostly stay together, but we may lose pieces of ourselves and find holes where we used to be whole.
I realized a few days ago that in the last year, I’ve been living that scene of destruction in reverse.
I knew I was battered up when I left for India. I knew I was dented and cracked and missing pieces.
I didn’t know that some of those pieces had made their way across the world. Perhaps it was the wind that picked up those fragments of me and carried them to far-off places. Carried them to India – to a convent where I learned the joy of doing dishes (a task I’ve never much liked) communally and to small villages where the glee of a simple game like catch with children who had no toys soaked into me.
Maybe blustery gusts took pieces of me to Palestine – to a house where I learned the comfort of living with others who shared my thirst for justice and to learning centers where the generosity of my students reminded me that I, too, have much to offer.
Perhaps a gentle breeze brought fragments of me to Italy – to a square filled with thousands of devoted where I learned the power of praying together and to a small town where the spirit of St. Francis saturated my soul.
And maybe some air current swept parts of me to Spain and the Netherlands – to homes of friends and family where I learned that time and space don’t necessarily weaken relationships and to parks where the intricate patterns of mosaics and flowers nourished my being.
Or maybe it was God.
I had the immense pleasure not long ago of seeing Peter Mayer in concert. He told a story and sang a song about Japanese bowls. In the late 15th century, Japanese artisans began the practice of repairing broken bowls using gold to fill the cracks between fragments. The craftsmen didn’t try to hide the breaks. Instead they enhanced each fracture with precious metal, highlighting the wear and tear the bowl had lived. The artists used gold to make each crack, and, as a result, each bowl, more beautiful. These bowls came to be valued more than the unbroken ones.
Like I didn’t know that pieces of me had scattered in the world, I didn’t know that my loved ones at home had also collected pieces of me, ones I didn’t even know were missing, and safely guarded them until I returned. I didn’t know that my friends and family waited until I was ready to receive their loving care before they gently coated each crack with gold and put my fragments back into place. As I reflect now, I see, with each piece newly set, the beauty of my brokenness, the dignity of a life risked and lived, the value of allowing others to put me back together.
I see that the custodians of my brokenness not only filled my empty spaces, but also sealed them with the precious coating of the love of God.
Without India, without Palestine, without Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, home, without many people holding me and putting me back together, I would still look like the completely shattered character from “Dark Shadows.” Because of those places and those people, I look like a Japanese bowl.
Last night I was at the final event of Louisville’s Merton Institute for Contemplative Living and heard a panel of speakers share their ideas about living a contemplative life. Many of them emphasized the importance of community, of recognizing our interconnectness with those we know and those we don’t know.
Only a few hours before his death, Thomas Merton said:
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
When we recognize our interdependence, we see that we need others to gather our missing pieces and they need us to do the same. When we know that we are all part of one another, we realize that guarding those pieces with tender care ultimately leads to our own mending. When we grasp that we are involved in one another, we understand that each of us is responsible for using our own store of precious bonding material to carefully and gently put the fragments we’ve collected back into place.
When we do all this, we, each of us, becomes a Japanese artisan, a custodian of brokenness, a bearer of blessing. We invite God into brokenness and allow God’s grace to transform brokenness into the splendor of God’s shining love.