Voices of Religion: A broken bowl holds truth, not water

Posted: Friday, October 01, 2010

Sue Bender, in her book Everyday Sacred (Harper, San Francisco, 1995) p. 13, shares a wonderful picture worth putting on your heart. Listen to her words:

"An imperfectly perfect bowl ... Long before I started thinking about begging bowls and everyday sacred, I saw a strikingly handsome Japanese tea bowl that had been broken and pieced together. The image of that bowl made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized -- filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended."

"An imperfectly perfect bowl" - I like that! I know people who fit that description. I have never seen a perfect person but I've seen plenty of people who were beautiful. I have never seen a person who wasn't broken, ever. But I've seen people who shine in their mending.

I've also seen those who don't shine, who have no glimmer, and Bender's analogy holds true. It is often those who try the hardest to hide their flaws. One suspects it's those who pretend most not to be broken who are the most broken.

No one wants a broken heart. No one wants a broken life. All of us, if it were as simple as flipping a switch, would do so to be perfect. But the breaking allows the silver to come in and to shine. May I suggest two reasons?

The silver flows when our broken hearts allow us to touch and help mend others who break. Listen to the Bible. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." - II Corinthians 1:3.

And so Nouwen's devotional classic is entitled The Wounded Healer. His message fits the scripture and Bender's image. Only those willing to face their own flaws can retrieve the silver needed to help mend another.

A second reason silver flows in broken places is that such places help deliver us from the awful sin of pride. The non-broken bowl doesn't need or yearn for the silver. The broken bowl cries out for it.

Consider an old Jewish tale. In the story, a young man comes to the Rabbi with a question.

"Why does Torah tell us to 'place these words upon your hearts'? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?"

The Rabbi answers, "It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top or our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in."

It is the broken who allow God in. It is the flawed who reach out to others. God bless all his imperfectly perfect bowls.

Rick Cupp is a Minister at Kenai Fellowship located at Mile 8.5 of the Kenai Spur Highway

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