Our Beautiful Brokenness
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)
There is a beautiful Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery. It originated in the 15th century when a ruler broke a favorite cup and he sent it to be fixed. The person who repaired the broken cup pieced the broken pieces together with some kind of a material mixed in with gold dust so that the cracks were highlighted- not disguised or hidden. But the result of filling in the crack with gold was that rather than detract to the beauty of the cup, the repaired damage added new beauty. A few years ago, I went to an art restorer not far from here to have something fixed. While in his office, he showed me an antique ceramic plate from a museum that was accidentally broken and he was tasked to repair it. When he showed it to me and held it up to the light, and I could not see any sign that it was once broken; the art restorer did such a magnificent job in hiding the breakage. Now in the Japanese tradition, the repair is done in such a way as to accentuate the breakage- not hide it- to accentuate the cracks with gold, to accentuate the imperfections or “scars” where the object was once broken. The philosophy behind this Japanese tradition is that the brokenness and repair of that object is a part of the history of that object, and that the imperfection of the object, its flaws, now becomes part of its newly re-created beauty. The repaired object is said to have a deeper value and a deeper beauty for having been broken. It is about recognizing beauty and grace in brokenness.
In today’s Gospel story today, we are presented with two characters. One is the religious Pharisee whose life seems almost perfect. Before God, he boasts of having followed the commandments of God perfectly. He presents himself as a morally and spiritually flawless person. Almost beyond reproach, he really does not need anything from God, or the grace of God. The other is that tax collector, that extortioner, who comes before God spiritually broken, who appears before God humbled and oppressed by his sin. He does not even look up to the heavens because he feels deep shame; but he risks a prayer, asking God for mercy on his broken and sinful self. He acknowledges his need for God and his need for grace to set his life aright. Jesus asks: of the two, who experienced healing? The Pharisee denies his need for grace to heal his heart stained with contempt and scorn for those who he feel morally and spiritually inferior; because of this denial of his brokenness, the doors of his heart is shut and the light of God cannot enter into the darkness of his heart. On the other hand, the tax collector opens his broken heart to God, and surrenders his brokenness to God and this allows the cleansing light of God enters in.
I think it is fair to say that many of us have experienced brokenness. Perhaps we have experienced brokenness in body, mind, or spirit. A serious bodily illness, or depression, addiction, to name a few. Certain events in life that happen to us can also make us feel broken- such a failed relationship, a betrayal by a loved one, disappointment in our chosen career, or an unfulfilled dream. Perhaps we have deep regrets in life that won’t go away. Or perhaps we carry shame and guilt over things we have done (we wish we didn’t but which we could not undo try as much as we can). The Gospel encourages us to bring our brokenness before God- to be honest- and lay them down before the merciful judgment Throne of God. God is like that Japanese potter who will take the broken pieces of our lives and spirit and make something beautiful out of them.
© 2016 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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