When you walked into the Chapel this morning, you might have noticed the vase on the table right in front of me. Some of you may not be able to see it, especially if you are seated in the back, so I invite you to come up after the service to take a closer look at it.
You’ll notice that - at some point in its life - it was shattered into pieces. An artist, skilled in the centuries old Japanese art called Kintsugi, which means “golden repair” or “golden joinery,” pieced it back together with a lacquer made with powdered gold.
The Japanese art form, according to legend, began in the 15th century when a Japanese military dictator wanted his broken Chinese tea bowl repaired. He sent it to China to be fixed but he thought the metal staples used to piece it back together were unsightly. So, he asked a local craftsmen to mend it, and “the result was a stunning new piece that emerged from the fragments, with golden seams tracing the places where the bowl had cracked”(Kintsugi: What a Broken Bowl Can Teach Us by Alia Hoyt).
One artist notes that “kintsugi doesn't try to hide the damaged areas. In fact, the glittering lacquer substance draws attention to the crack” (Hoyt). Its fractures are part of its unique history, and they are seen as assets rather than flaws.
I first learned about kintsugi when I was living in Hawaii, and a friend of mine shared that the art form is inspired by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect.
In a book called Simply Imperfect, the author describes wabi-sabi as a “a different kind of looking, a different kind of mindset” - it’s “a philosophy and way of life that finds beauty in things as they are” - even and especially when they are broken, fractured, and fragmented (Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House).
In my opening chapel talk this year to students, I asked them to think about what it would look like if we were to apply wabi-sabi to our lives, especially to the way we perceive ourselves and others:
I think we’d be more accepting of ourselves - imperfections and all.
We’d understand that our imperfections - what we might call flaws or limitations - are the things that make us unique and beautiful.
We’d stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect.
We’d be OK with the fact that we will make mistakes and fail.
We’d be more compassionate and inclined to forgive ourselves and others when we mess up or make a mistake.
We’d understand that life doesn’t always work out as planned, and we’d trust that the unexpected twists and turns and challenges we encounter - the cracks and fractures of life - add character to our life story, and make us stronger, more compassionate, and more humble.
We’d trust more fully that when life leaves us feeling broken, there is hope - hope that all things can be pieced back together and made whole again.
This vase will live in the Chapel this year, and it will sit next to this wooden plaque which is engraved with the beginning of a blessing I have been using at the end of every Chapel.
I’d like to share the blessing this morning as I think it ~ along with the vase ~ speaks powerfully to us no matter what phase of life we find ourselves in. It comes from L. R. Knost, a parenting expert and the author of Two Thousand Kisses A Day. She writes:
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly and unconditionally.
The broken world awaits in darkness for the light that is you.
Yes, the world around us is broken. Violence, war, poverty, hunger, the largest refugee crisis the world has ever known, a rise in anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, anti-muslim, anti-gay rhetoric and hate crimes: these are just a few examples of how broken humanity is, and it’s all fueled by fear and greed.
Yes, there are times in our lives when each of us feels broken - fragmented by the complexities of life - illness, death, heartache, loss, grief, failure.
The good news - the Gospel news - is that all things can be mended with love - God’s love, and the love of our friends and family. I want my students to know that - when life hits them - and hits them hard - so hard that it breaks them - there are people all around them who are there to help put the pieces of their fractured lives back together.
I can’t imagine what it must feel like to step foot onto this campus after so many years of being away. You have come from near and far to be together this weekend to do three things: to remember, to honor, and to give thanks.
Reunion weekends are a time to reminisce about the past; to tell stories; to get caught up with good friends on 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of joys and sorrows, of amazing accomplishments, choices made, and roads taken and not taken.
Reunions are also a time to honor in name and memory your classmates who have gone before you - to lift them up in prayer to God.
In your remembering and honoring, you are also invited to take this time to rejoice and give thanks. We are so very privileged to be able to gather here this morning, to sit among one another in this sacred space, and to sing and pray and express gratitude for: family, spouses, partners, children and grandchildren; friends, old and new, lost and found; the stories you’ve lived, and the stories that are still being written; and especially the gift of this school, for the ways that Bishop’s has shaped and influenced your life.
Now is the time to give thanks for your days here - as they were, and still are, an enormous gift.
Reunions can be humbling. They remind us how quickly life flies by, and how brief our time on this earth is.
They also remind us that life doesn’t always unfold as we expect it to. You have likely known your share of heartbreak, loss, defeat and more disappointments than you can number; and you have also likely been blessed in ways that you least expected.
We gather this morning in this space with humble and grateful hearts - thanking God for all that has been - for the joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, good and bad - for the broken and beautiful lives that we have had the privilege of living.
As I look at this vase, I see it as a metaphor for life. It represents three things - three truths that can offer us guidance on our journey.
First, there is beauty in imperfection. Last year, I had the opportunity to get to know an extraordinary student. She came to my office one day, sat down on my couch, and told me that she wanted to speak in chapel about her learning disability, dyslexia. She had already written the chapel talk, and handed it to me to read. I had to fight back tears as I read it. She ended up speaking to all students, from 6th grade to 12th grade, and students, faculty and staff erupted in applause after each time she gave it. Her talk was recorded and you can listen to it on the Bishop’s website.
She spoke about how her disability affects everything in her life - “messing up her whole brain.” She says it has turned her life inside out and upside down, forced her to literally learn backwards, and caused her to feel embarrassed, ashamed and insecure. She spoke of wanting to be anyone but herself.
Yet, she also shared how her struggles and challenges have taught her so much about life.
She’s come to embrace the fact that dyslexia is something she has but she will never allow it to define who she is.
She’s learned that she could feel sorry for herself or own who she is.
She’s learned that picking herself back up is her greatest gift. She is strong and resilient.
While she used to make excuses for why she couldn’t do something, now she focuses on why she can do it.
She’s learned not to be a victim - life is not fair - her dyslexia is not her fault but her healing is her responsibility.
She’s learned that “comparison is the thief of joy” - that comparing herself to others does her no good, and that her joy can only be taken away if she allows herself to give it away.
Her parting advice to her peers was this: “No matter where you go and no matter what you do, if you don’t learn to fail, you will fall.”
Her courage, persistence, resilience, and defiant hope are a powerful testament to the human will to overcome challenges and limitations, and to turn them into something beautiful. She is truly one of the most remarkable young people I’ve ever met.
None of us is perfect. We all have something. And, life is not perfect. The challenges we face are what help us grow; they make life meaningful. It’s the difficult roads, as they say, that most often lead to the most beautiful destinations. This journey called life is about accepting all that the world has to offer and calling it beautiful.
Second, no matter how dark our world might seem, or broken we might feel, there is hope ~ hope that all things can be mended, hope that our brokenness can become part of the greater landscape of love and generosity. Jesus speaks to this hope in the Gospel reading when he says to the people in Matthew 11:28:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
During his time on earth, Jesus gravitated to the broken ~ the demon-possessed, the crippled, the blind, the dying, the hungry ~ and he healed them. He came into the world to remind us of hope, and that same Jesus that walked the earth 2,000 years ago is alive and well today - in the movement of the Holy Spirit, in the human will to persevere, in you and I.
Finally, this vase reminds us that it is love - the love of God, and the love of family and friends - that heals all things and pieces us back together when we fall apart. Love is the golden lacquer, if you will, that binds us back together.
About ten years ago, I went through a particularly difficult time in my life. I remember feeling broken and alone. There were many early mornings when I awoke to the reality of my life, and I found myself saying the same, simple prayer over and over and over again: “God, redeem my life.” It was the only prayer I could muster up in my heart. It was a prayer of desperation but it was also a prayer of faith - and act of hope. Those words carried me through that time ~ reminding me that God is always present, always faithful, always good.
It is God - as the Psalmist reminds us - who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Healing - mending that which has been broken - takes time. When an artist repairs a bowl, she has to hold the pieces together until the lacquer dries. It takes time and requires patience, mindfulness and calm.
But we also know that time is not the only thing we need to heal. We need love - intentional, extravagant and unconditional love, and we can’t piece our lives back together without help from others. As you look back over your life, I’m sure you can identify people who supported you through difficult times. I hope you will thank them. I hope you will also, in your prayers, give thanks to God - for love, grace and forgiveness.
Three things: Beauty in imperfection. Hope that all things can be mended. Intentional, extravagant and unconditional love.
My prayer for you this weekend - as you remember, honor and give thanks - is that you will put love where there is no love. As Henri Frederic Amiel reminds us: “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. Amen.