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under repair


One of my favorite things to do, particularly now as spring is here, is to take the long way back to Guilford as I go home. I meander down Highway 22, through Northford and North Branford, winding through farms and houses, and I have also gotten into the habit of stopping at the Defrancesco Farm stand to get duck eggs. When the granddaughter of the family is at the register, she even tells me the names of the ducks who laid the eggs.

Just before I get to Route 80, I pass a big open field. In about six weeks or so, it will be brimming with sunflowers that feel like they go on forever. Ginger, Rachel, and I have made a small tradition of driving up there when they are in full bloom and wandering out into the field to take pictures of each other in the middle of them.

A friend in Guilford told me the farmer plants them because his wife loves them—and she has breast cancer. That field is a tangible statement of hope. I don’t have any way to verify the story, but it rings true, and it harmonizes with the heart of our scripture passage this morning where Paul says,

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, Christ’s resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. For while we live, we are constantly handed over to death on account of Jesus so that his life may be revealed even in our mortal bodies of flesh. So death is constantly at work in us, but life is working in you.

Death is constantly at work in us, but life is working in you.

Those words have been ringing in my ears all week.

It is a truism, bordering on a cliché, to say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, that the hard things in life make us stronger at the broken places. Clichés become clichés because they hold some truth, but they lose value when we forget that truth has lots of layers. Life is not defined easily; neither is pain or even joy. Paul described us as those who carry the image of God in “broken pots of clay,” which is a rich and beautiful metaphor unless, perhaps, you are feeling particularly broken. Then it may be hard to hear, even if it is true.

As we talk about this, it’s important to remind ourselves that the pain we experience in life is not intended to be an object lesson. God does not inflict us with tragedy or hardship or grief to teach us something. The things that leave us broken didn’t happen just to get our attention. They are part of what it means to be human, to be alive.

Life is difficult. Life hurts. And life is beautiful and joyous.

When I read Paul’s words about being broken clay pots, it reminded me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which means “join with gold.” (And I hope I said it right.) It is a method of repairing broken pottery or glass but binding the pieces together with gold lacquer, creating something that is not simply repaired but made beautiful by the way it is mended.

One of the central ideas behind it is to fix the broken thing rather than just throw it away. Another is the idea of “wabi-sabi,” which is accepting that impermanence and imperfection are inevitable parts of our world. Wabi means “less is more,” and sabi means “attentive melancholy,” which is an interesting phrase to me because it feels almost like an oxymoron: attentive melancholy. We can hold both the significance and the sadness of our lives at once.

Again, that’s sometimes easier said than done, and that is because of a couple of things. One is that healing or repair is not an instantaneous thing. I would imagine those who practice the art of Kintsugi take a long time to put those bowls back together again. So it is with our healing. We don’t just get over things. It takes time.

And it takes others. We can’t repair ourselves; we need help. We need others to pick up pieces, to be the adhesive that repairs, to offer the love that heals. We are both the wounded ones and the healers. Paul said, “Death is at work in us, but life is working in you.” Depending on the circumstance, we inhabit both sides of that story. We live—together—in a continual state or repair because none of us gets broken only once.

Lastly, let us remember that healing does not mean making it go back to how it was before. We can’t go back. Damage done is damage done, but that damage, like most everything in life, is not permanent. Something comes after it.

The first tattoo I got was this semi-colon on my right forearm. I had it done soon after my father died. As I have told you, I live with depression. After Dad died, I had a hard time. Somewhere during those days, I learned about Project Semi-Colon, an organization begun by a woman who attempted to take her own life and failed. In the aftermath, she saw the semi-colon as a symbol that meant the sentence was not yet over. There was more to come.

The word repair means “to make ready again,” however long it takes. That also means we understand that when we are called to be the ones aiding in repair, we need to be prepared to hang in there for a good long while. The old nursery rhyme says all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. Maybe they just gave up too soon.

We are called to do our best to not let that be the end of any of our stories. And that is the truth of which we remind ourselves each time we come to the Communion table: We are here to remember—to put ourselves back together in Jesus’ name, to heal one another, to repair the bonds between us, so that we can carry love in our lives. Amen.



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