Cracked Pots

The Kintsugi pot, is the ancient Japanese practice of mending a cracked, chipped pot with a sealant. Originally cracked pots were sealed with melted lead, allowing the pots to hold water, rice, barley. In time the seemingly imperfect pieces were deemed to be beautiful because of the cracks and chips. Later, artisans would melt gold and silver to seal the cracks ensuring that the works became pieces of art.

photo Kintsugi vase

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk, believes that ‘our human imperfections/brokenness opens us up to receive God’s restorative grace. In his book ‘Falling Upward’, Rohr explores the spirituality of the two halves of life. In the first half of life we are generally clarifying our identity. We ask question such as: What am I good at? What am I passionate about? What values are important to me? Who to I belong to? Who will go with me? Such questions help us determine our identity.

“By the second half of life’, writes Rohr, ‘we’ve been humbled’. We’ve been humbled via poor choices or by circumstances beyond our control. Rohr suggests that by being humbled we become open to asking new and challenging questions: What is really important to me? What do I really believe about God, about life? (Not, what do others tell me I should believe, but what do I really believe to be true?). Knowing what questions to ask and wrestling with the question until an answer is found or an insight gleaned, is the gift that comes with falling on one’s face.

The paradox of growing older is that through our mistakes we can begin to glean wisdom. This surely isn’t true for everyone. I know people well on in years, who cling to childish ways of seeing and being. I know people who cling to bitterness and resentments going back more than 70 years. Such persons remain broken and profoundly wounded, trapped in their past. If they were a pot they would remain fractured and useless.

cracked-pots

But for those who do the hard work of growing beyond their pain, for those who wrestle insights and lessons from their brokenness, such persons become a source of inspiration and encouragement. Such restored persons encourage others who also struggle to move beyond a poor choice or painful circumstance. Friends in recovery from an addiction know what I’m talking about. An AA or NA meeting is full of cracked pots that have become beautiful precisely because of the hard work each person does to stay clean and sober. People in recovery know that their restoration to health is due not only to their hard work but also the support of community and their ‘higher power’.

Do you know a broken person who inspires you? Who inspires you because of their imperfection and because of their courage in overcoming difficulties and the hard won wisdom that they’ve acquired? Who are the Kintsugi pots in you life? Are you a cracked pot that has become beautiful too?

Beachcombing with Dad

A favorite boyhood memory is walking with my Dad, Norman along the beach. My grandmother had a cottage at Breakwater Village in Point Judith, Rhode Island. For two weeks in July my family would call that little cottage home.

Each morning my Dad would wake me up and after a quick breakfast, invite me to walk with him on the beach. For me it was a favorite time to explore what the sea had tossed upon the beach and to be with my Dad. One morning I remember seeing fishermen’s raincoats and boots the result of a boat that had gone aground in a storm the night before. Each found item fired my imagination.

My Dad and I would walk and scan the beach for shells and interesting shaped rocks and driftwood. Often I would collect shells to take home. But as I look back I was collecting memories simply walking and talking with my father.

Photo of footprints on beach

A recent film (2013) ‘About Time’ written by Richard Curtis reminds me of those boyhood times. In this sweet film the main character Tim (actor Domhnall Gleeson),through the magic of Hollywood learns from his father (played by the wonderful actor Bill Nighy), that the men in their family are able to travel back in time. Specifically they are able to go back to any moment in their own life experience and relive it or alter it.

At first Tim dreams about accumulating money and fame. But his father who is a wise soul challenges him to use the gift to grow in matters of the heart, ‘that which is really of value’.

While the film is billed as a romantic comedy, with Tim’s love interest played by actress Rachel McAdams, it is especially about the gift of living well, the importance of relationships and the gift of memory. In one poignant scene as Bill Nighy’s character draws to the end of his life, he invites Tim to go back one last time to a beach where father and son can once again romp and play in the sand.

This beautiful film reminds us of what we know. That memory can continue to teach and restore us.

It has been 50 years since I walked on that beach with my Dad. ‘About Time’ reminds me that we too are time travelers and that in going back to our past we remember lessons that help us to live more fully in the present. Memories both happy and painful hold lessons to be learned. Even moments of grace.

The film resonates with parents (like me) for we too hope that our children will have good memories to return to, memories that bless and restore. To my Dad who passed away 14 years ago, I say: “Thanks Dad for taking me to the beach those early mornings. Thanks for listening to my questions, for being excited about what excited my eight year old heart. Thanks for encouraging me to continue looking with wonder at what the sea tosses upon the beach.”

The Gift of Robin Williams

We mourn the passing of Robin Williams at age 63. He was an extraordinary person who touched the lives of millions as a comedian and actor. Initial reports suggest that he took his own life. A spokesperson for the family say that he wrestled for much of his life with depression and addiction.

His comedic genius served as a backdrop to my generation and touched the life of my children’s generation through endearing performances such as the Genie in the Disney animated film, ‘Aladdin’.

Robin Williams Photo

As an actor he won an academy award for his role as a grieving, empathetic therapist in ‘Goodwill Hunting’. In the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ he portrayed a beloved teacher who drew from his own reservoir of pain and spoke to the deepest longings of his students.

Robin Williams portrayal of these two fragile characters rings true because we sense that he brought his own vulnerability to the role. His experience resonated with our own sense of vulnerability and struggle.

As a comedian he had us rolling on the floor in laughter, even as we sensed that his comedic gift came from a fragile place. This connection between darkness and laughter wasn’t unique to Williams. His death feels so personal because his authenticity as a human being touched us deeply.

Robin didn’t hide his struggles but put them out for all to see. My hope is that his example will encourage and challenge each of us to be honest about who we are. One truth I’ve learned in 30 plus years of being a pastor is that no one has their act completely together, certainly not me.

We all have our areas of light and shadow, hope and despair. This mixed bag is what it means to be human. That Robin’s despair ultimately took his life should not discourage us from being open about our own vulnerability and struggles as well as our hopes and dreams.

His example challenges us to respond to the seemingly polite question: ‘How are you today?’, with an honest answer: ‘I feel good, happy’. Or, ‘I feel alone/anxious/sad/hopeless/angry’. The truth is most of us feel a mix of emotions every day.

In choosing to be emotionally authentic with each other, we have a responsibility to listen and be compassionate and caring. To let each other know that we have each other’s back. This is what it means to be part of a healthy community.

This is a bittersweet time. We are full of grief at the passing of an immensely talented, flawed and courageous human being. And, we are full of gratitude for the joy and depth of humanity that Robin Williams brought to us all. May God’s comfort be with his family and all who grieve his passing. To the Creator’s love we return his expansive soul.