“Whoa!” I hollered as the butter dish came crashing down, shattering on the floor of the kitchen. I had just opened the refrigerator door a bit too fast, causing things to shift on the shelf, and our ceramic butter dish slid from its precarious perch. I really liked this particular dish. In truth, the potter who turned it likely never imagined it as a butter dish, but Lauren and I didn’t care. The bowl was a keepsake from a shop in Annapolis, our old home, a memory from the early days of our marriage. Having the bowl serve as a butter dish provided us with a daily opportunity to relish some happy memories! After cleaning butter off the floor, I wiped off the broken pieces, carefully placed them in a paper bag, and set them aside thinking to myself, “Sylvia will know what to do.”
You know Sylvia Everett, one of the many talented artisans in our congregation, for her sanctuary hangings, mosaics, tapestries, and in general, her uniquely creative and spiritual mind. She also specializes in a Japanese art form called kintsugi (“golden joinery”). In kintsugi, the artist uses golden dust lacquer to rejoin or mend broken pottery, and the result is stunning. Sylvia’s kintsugi reminds me of the old adage, “more beautiful for having been broken.” It reminds me of the “cold and broken Hallelujah” in Leonard Cohen’s song. It reminds me of Tikkun-Olam.
Tikkun-Olam is the Hebrew word for the “reassembly of the world.” In a particular strand of Jewish mythology, the whole world, everything that is, the ha-Olam, is originally filled with divine light. But, the light was so strong and the world so filled with it, that the vessel broke into a thousand tiny shards. Tikkun-Olam is the never-ending task given to all people – the reassembly of a broken world.
Yesterday, the 22 year old, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman announced a Tikkun-Olam altar call for America. Her stirring poem, “The Hill We Climb”, was more than the musings of a clever wordsmith, they were the utterances of a prophet pastor. She brought us to the kneeling rail in prayer as she acknowledged the dark “force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.” She brought us to confess the burden of our blunders. For those blunders, Gorman offered no cheap grace – no last-minute pardon. Rather, she embraced and empowered the memory of defeat and failure: “Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried.” The Very-Right-for-this-moment-Reverend Gorman then drew our gaze up “The hill we climb” to a vision of a nation, a people, who are “benevolent but bold”, who are “fierce and free.” A Tikkun-Olam people, who are “bruised but whole.”
The secret miracle of Tikkun-Olam, as the old Jewish scribes tell it, is that each and every one of those thousands of tiny shards, the broken pieces of God’s creation, remain filled with the divine primordial light! Each and every shard is at once broken, and whole. Though my butter dish still bears the marks of brokenness, it is whole once again, lovingly rejoined in gold by my friend Sylvia. It is indeed more beautiful for having been broken. I pray the same may be true for our nation today. I pray that we might ever be “the home of the brave” and heed our new young prophet’s words: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
So be it.