One of the more articulate poets of antiquity was the harp-playing shepherd boy turned warrior and king, known as David. He wrote roughly half of the Psalms found in the Old Testament, and these ancient poems range far and wide over the emotional spectrum. He is overcome with joy and praise one minute, raw with vengeance and anger the next. He is confused by God’s silence or his own circumstances; and he is depressed, bordering on the suicidal.
To those latter emotions, Psalm 31 is one of David’s more desperate poems. He speaks of being abandoned, of tears washing his face, of feeling that his body and spirit are wasting away. Scholars believe he was a young man when he wrote those words, on the lam, hiding in a desert cave — literally and figuratively in a dark, hopeless hole — evading relentless enemies who were trying to kill him.
A phrase he uses in that Psalm is perfectly picturesque. He says, “My life is as useless as a broken pot.” He feels like shattered glass on the floor; fully incapable of holding anything; splintered into a million pieces, with no foreseeable way for those pieces to be put together again.
This language of brokenness caused me to stop when I read the Psalm recently, for my wife is an artist who creates beautiful sculptures out of broken things: Broken glass, thrown away lumber, and all manner of recycled materials, mixed with paint, clay, ceramics, and resin. If you visit our garage you will see what appears to be boxes and buckets of castaway junk. But visit her studio above that garage, and you will see the stunning results of brokenness reassembled.
This kind of art has a long tradition. One of the oldest is called “Kintsugi.” It originated in Japan centuries ago, and is the process of taking the broken shards of a pot, a plate, or a ceramic teacup, and binding these back together with lacquer or resin, dusted with gold or silver.
Kintsugi means, “the golden repair,” and artists who work with the medium would never throw a broken pot away. Instead, they pick up the pieces — no matter how many or how shattered — and put them back together, the mending becoming a masterpiece. They don’t hide the seams. The fused joints, accentuated with precious metals, become a showpiece. It is the “art of scars,” producing something more beautiful after the mending than it was before the breaking.
David would live fifty more years after writing that woeful Psalm. He would become a king, the soul of a nation, and arguably, the single most important individual in the Old Testament, if not Israeli history. The life that had amounted to no more than a broken pot, was repaired, put together again, and made stronger than ever.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “The world breaks everyone,” but bringing his emotions and thoughts to true and living words, he concludes, “and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”