The genesis of the Japanese Kintsugi Art genre was over 600 years ago. In the repair of a broken vessel, gold is applied, and the original becomes of more value. Briefly, I recognized the courage of our ladies and their similarities to Kintsugi and their “beauty from ashes” stories in our April Newsletter. The traumatic events in the lives of our ladies have not wounded them beyond repair as one might think. Pain and brokenness are common to humans. In most cases, our heartaches are born from inevitable loss, poor choices, or tragedy. In the life stories of the My Cup of Tea ladies, those are also familiar, but other traumas include rape, incest, murder, shootings, domestic violence, and assaults.
Counseling and therapy are luxuries even among the privileged. Most times, professional guidance is too expensive and illusive for the majority of our employees who live in our often dangerous neighborhood of Orange Mound. Not as a substitute for professional mental health treatment, but as a salve for some of the pain the ladies cope with daily, I was hopeful, but ill-equipped to offer a type of Kintsugi to our ladies at the tea company. I delayed, and my procrastination and the tyranny of addressing immediate needs proved providentially a blessing. The delays allowed me to identify Tracy Sigmon Shipman, a treasured friend, who had studied Kintsugi, designed several repairs, and was eager to share her experience.
As she meditated over 6 weeks of prayer and preparation, I stirred some interest among several of our ladies and challenged them to sign up for her visits.
Last week 5 MCOT ladies timidly stepped across the line of caution, shame, and privacy and introduced themselves to Tracy. She was equipped with tools, tips, time, and tenderness. There was a trust factor necessary for them to individually unveil the covered past and pain.
Step 1 for them was to choose a beautiful plate, and it was easily accomplished. On the table, clean and flawless, 5 plates were placed in front of trembling hands holding a ball hammer. The first encounters of hammer to plate were gentle taps until Tracy said “harder, hit them with force,” and all the plates fractured. Tracy explained that the point on the plate of hardest assault would spider out in many connected wounds on the plate. The significance was obvious.
Step 2 was the methodical replacement of one piece joining the one situated next to it, slowly. The ladies mixed epoxy glue, and with feather strokes of a brush loaded with glue, built back in order the damaged pieces. They moved too fast, the glue didn’t hold, and all plates either collapsed or released major and minor fragments. Life parallels our need to repair plates, and our lives too quickly. The dialogue at the table was original and transformative.
Step 3 was the strategic and delicate sanding and buffing of the hardened glue. The plate was once again intact, sort of, and the cracks were hardened, but harsh. What a picture of all of us that is. One of the ladies paused, tears pooled, and said “this is a very spiritual experience for me”. All nodded. A bond among the ladies was evidently growing, and Tracy continued to soothe us with Scriptures from the Psalter. Lament is the subject of 1/3 of the Psalms and was in rich supply throughout the workshop week. Tracy spoke truth and hope with love.
In Step 4 they were each handed a tool to push powdered gold into the cracks. This required a surgeon’s touch but brought the burnished cracks to their illumining gloss. Carefully and with reflection, each of the ladies began to share the story of her plate.
“These 5 cracks, I have covered in gold are my 5 children. This one stubborn piece at the top is my son. He has resisted my discipline, broken my rules too many times, and caused me anger, shame, and hopelessness. I am not going to let up or let go”. She continued by asking us to continue to support her in her pursuit for what is best for him. “This plate story is a promise to me that he is God’s child, and He will see me through it and my son will grow to be a righteous man of God. Amen.”
Another woman, one of our newest employees uncovered her wounds of late in her plate’s story of her life. “I have lost 3 precious family members to death in 4 months.” With a choking voice, she continued,” there are 3 major cracks all joined to a small dime-sized hole here in the middle. That hole is my broken heart. It requires extra glue filler, and the gold that covers it is more obvious.” She allowed us into her story to help her repair her grieving heart and assist in carrying the shadows of frustrated loss.
Soon their 5 plates will be displayed, and in the presentation to the co-workers, each of the first 5 will tell their plate parable. I hope all of our employees will want to participate in the profound experience that a burden shared is ½ the load. Joy comes in time and is quickened in community. A leap of faith in opening our wounds of complaint to trusted companions has begun in the beautiful activity of Kintsugi on the corner of Semmes and Carnes. We lament to find the hope of recovery and trust.
Grief abounds, but grace abounds all the more. Lament is pain in prayer that leads to trust. Though we live in a world broken by sin, lament invites us to take our pain to trusted companions and our Savior. Our path reaffirms the process that we are more valuable because of not in spite of our sorrows and grief. We have 15 beautiful women who are growing, giving, and glowing in the Refiner’s grasp and His loving application of pure gold.
Amen and amen.