Kintsukuroi and the
Healing Journey

Pilgrimage can be a journey of healing—close to home or far away. In art, kintsukuroi (or kintsugi) is a way of taking what is broken and making it beautiful … more valuable than it was before it was broken.

We hate to struggle—to hurt. But as Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“Until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in No Mud, No Lotus

Being present is a whole different issue. I’m rarely where I am (if that makes sense). My mind travels all over the place, even when my body is still.

If you’ve ever watched Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver, there’s a part midway through her outback trek when they've been sitting together for a while. He’s rattling on about all kinds of things, and she finally asks him: “When are you going to get here?”

She’s all about being present in the moment. 

That’s difficult for me.

Good, bad, or otherwise, it’s one of the reasons I like the wandering of pilgrimage. My body falls into the rhythm of walking, and I can tune into my own thoughts or, when those have finally silenced, listen for the voice of God.

But we have to be present to confront our suffering. Not just glance and move past it as quickly as possible, but look it in the eye. Hold its hand. Know its true name. When we face our suffering and acknowledge it … that begins the journey of healing.

The Story of Kintsukuroi

As the story goes, kintsukuroi became a thing because a famous shogun had a favorite teabowl that was broken. He wanted to keep it, so he sent it to China for repair. But they didn’t know a good way to go about it, so they just stapled it back together. 

Basically, it was a hack job. Sometimes we do that, too. We don’t know a good way to deal with the broken pieces or it hurts to handle them. So we cobble them back together any way we can and hope it holds. 

We have to be able to look at those pieces long and lovingly. 

The staple job didn’t do it for the shogun. Instead, Japanese artisans looked long and found a way to craft the broken pieces into a work of art.

They mended them with lacquer mixed with gold dust. Instead of hiding the broken places, the gold showed exactly where they were—highlighted them and made the teabowl more beautiful than it had ever been. It was kept for generations and periodically repaired using this method.

The Beauty of Brokenness

In the philosophy of kintsukuroi, the brokenness isn’t hidden. Rather, it becomes part of the history of the object—something that is celebrated, rather than something disguised or denied. 

In the Christian life, this is a metaphor for the work God does in his people—his flawed, precious people, whose brokenness makes them more human, more approachable, more lovely. 

Those broken places are a story of connection and healing.

In a culture that values saving face (and in a modern world that treats so many things as disposable), this treasuring of the imperfect is significant.

It is a healing journey—a pilgrimage toward the beauty of who you were meant to be. A loving acceptance of you exactly as you are.

“I liked myself this way. It was such a relief to be free of disguises and prettiness and attractivenessI must let people see me as I am. Like this? Yes, why not like this.”

Robyn Davidson in Tracks

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