We live in a society that has become accustomed to the disposable, the practical and the ephemeral, and which is, as a consequence, increasingly unconcerned with beauty, the sublime and the enduring. For this reason, it may be difficult for us to appreciate a certain oriental art form, kintsugi, which aims to restore shattered objects in such a way as to enhance them, thus affirming that from the shards of a seemingly irreparable disaster, something superior can emerge.
The history of kintsugi – Japanese for gold joinery – dates back to the late 15th century, when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent two of his favourite teacups to China to be repaired. The porcelain pieces came back restored, but with some metal clips that gave them a rustic and unsightly appearance. Displeased, he decided to commission the undertaking to Japanese craftsmen.
So magnificent was the work of these artists that, it is said, oriental aristocrats would deliberately break precious porcelain pieces to have them renewed. Thus was born a ceramic restoration technique that became an art to span centuries.
The technique consists of joining the broken pieces with urushi lacquer – from the resin of the tree of that name – sprinkled with gold, silver or platinum powder. To apply the lacquer, a kebo or makizutsu brush is used. At the end of the process the piece has its original form, but is replete with shining scars.
Reflecting on this tradition, we can observe that certain pagan nations seem to intuit some metaphysical realities with greater acuity than those of the Christian West. This is no doubt so, with a view to preparing these peoples to welcome the revealed truth at some point in the future. It is indeed remarkable to find in the Far East a people so contemplative and transcendent, so endowed with a gift for metaphors, that they perceived in this form of restoration a reflection of a human process in the moral realm, and founded an artisan school that has lasted to the present day.
Scars of a warrior
A number of principles come to the fore in kintsugi. Especially striking is that of the beauty of scars, something innate to a militarized society endowed with a keen sense of honour, which for centuries had as its highest model the archetypal figure of the samurai, a fearless warrior ready to sacrifice everything for his master.
The authentic warrior is never ashamed of battle scars. Something repulsive from a superficial aesthetic standpoint acquires a sublime beauty on a transcendent dimension, when analysed from the perspective of the metaphysical value of suffering for the sake of a lofty ideal.
However, there is something even higher represented in kintsugi, which touches on the Most High.
The Divine Craftsman
God is commonly represented as a craftsman modelling a clay vase, the image of every human being. Since the Artist’s skill is absolute, the good result of the work depends, in this case, on the docility of the clay in allowing itself to be moulded.
We can imagine this Divine Craftsman working with the poorest material and producing an exquisite piece of porcelain, adorned with beautiful figures drawn by the masterful brushstrokes of heavenly enamels. An incomparable vase has been produced – a work of art!
Let us suppose that this magnificent vase has a will of its own and decides to cast itself to the ground, shattering into a thousand pieces… Well, that is exactly what man, moulded by grace from the day of his Baptism, does when he decides to destroy the work of the Creator in his soul– whether on a whim or to satisfy his passions – and embraces sin.
How to reconstitute this vessel, reduced to fragments so small that they could be mistaken for dust?
The omnipotence of divine pardon
Nowhere does God’s omnipotence shine so clearly as in the act of forgiveness. In it, we behold the mystery of the love of an infinite and eternal Being who, hearing the lamentation of a contrite heart that humbles itself and asks forgiveness, accomplishes the “impossible”.
Infinitely more precious than gold, the Redeemer’s Blood acts like a sacrosanct “resin” to unite the fragments of the poor vessel, and not only restores it, but gives it new lustre.
The soul restored by divine forgiveness retains scars, but these will be its glory and joy for all eternity because they will shine with the unmistakable light of one who has loved much for having been forgiven much (cf. Lk 7:47).
It is wrong, therefore, to become discouraged and lose our peace when we sense our own misery, even if we have had the misfortune to commit a mortal sin. So magnificent is God’s work in pouring out His pardon that the result, like that of the Japanese artisans, surpasses the original article. Hence we comprehend the often-repeated comment of Msgr. João Scognamiglio Clá Dias in his sermons: if by some absurdity we could sin without offending God, we would even wish to do so, just to receive His pardon!
This truth should fill us with invincible courage, especially when we consider that when it comes to the complete restoration of a soul, God entrusts the work to the divine artisan, Mary Most Holy. Help and refuge of sinners, She applies the gold of her mercy even upon those who do not know how to ask for forgiveness. For this She imposes only one condition: that they abandon themselves entirely into her maternal hands. ◊