Remembering our Imperfections — The Japanese Tea Bowl

Today, I pulled out from the dryer one of my many white, TCA coaching shirts while I was washing my clothes and cleaning my new condo. As I indelicately shoved the white, chipping hanger through the top of the shirt’s neck hole – my irrational impatience and anxiety withholding me from attempting the struggle of navigating the pointy hook, undoubtedly bound to snag on the shirt’s mesh material, up from the larger opening at the bottom – I noticed a little yellow stain on the left shoulder.

Immediately, I remembered.

I was sitting on a back porch with a two of my nieces and one of my nephews. We were huddled around a small glass table with a few other people scarfing down burgers and taking handfuls of cheesy Ore Ida tater tots straight to our mouths.

My four-year-old nephew sat on my left. His styrofoam plate wobbled on his little knees as he laughed at the comments made by his 20-year-old best friend across the table who would throw him haphazardly in the air and humorously challenged his mother’s ban on SpongeBob.

We laughed; we ate. The Kingdom of God was at hand. Until…

Caught up in the hysteria of our meal, my nephew looked at me, smiled, and dipped his finger in the mustard that sought to eek itself off the rim of his flustered plate. He cackled; and extended the small dab of mustard toward my shoulder and smeared it down my white sleeve.

His father’s back was facing us as he worked the grill, but the roar from behind him caused him to turn – a laughter of a mischievous little boy who does something he knows he shouldn’t do but can’t help but do because he wants to give his best friend from across the way the same gift he provided him all night long.

“Mav, what did you do?” his father asked.

With a heart of gold and a tinge of pride, Mav said, “I put mustard on Justin’s shirt.”

The laughter didn’t last long for Mav. He was ushered to timeout and a spanking and forced to apologize to me.

No harm done, anyways. He is my nephew. He can pretty much do what he wants to me, and I will think it is endearing.

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I learned about the Japanese aesthetic philosophy, wabi-sabi, from the Cultured Cup, a tea and coffee tasting room in Farmers Branch, TX. Kyle Stewart, the tea connoisseur of the company, was explaining the Japanese tea ceremony and the importance of the tea bowls in the ritual as he shared some of his favorite teas from around the world with me.

He explained how the bowls used in these ceremonies are passed down from generation to generation and are given a place of honor in the home. The Japanese have traditionally used the ceremony and the tea bowl in their homes to strengthen societal bonds; the ceremony is an intimate one which welcomes the other into your life. Over the years, though, these bowls would begin to crack from overuse, or they would be dropped, shattering into many pieces.

Instead of replacing the bowl with a new, shiny one without any blemishes, wabi-sabi compels them to repair the broken bowl. Wabi-sabi values the imperfections of life and reality, and the bowl – with all of its cracks present in its reparation – constantly reminds them of this truth, for the bowl continues to receive a place of honor in the home even though its shape is disfigured a bit.

The new guest who dropped the bowl as she sipped from it later became the family’s best friend, the little boy who bumped the bowl off its pedestal as he rushed by it to nuzzle tenderly against his father’s knee as he came home from a long day’s work – those people, those moments, will forever be remembered with each crack of this now perfect bowl. The pieces of the once broken bowl have been fused together with a story that binds people together.

I quickly hung up my stained shirt – a shirt I will continue to put in my work clothes rotation, so I can remember the nephew I love and the family that adopted me into their own. I turned away from the closet, and flashing in the corner of my eye, I noticed a spot on my wall that my mother and I failed to paint when I moved into my new place two months ago.

The imperfect colorization reminded me of the conversation we had as we mindlessly applied primer and paint in the dark of the evening. We talked about our broken, discolored family pieced together with an imperfect love. An imperfect family unit. Stories of heartache line the cracks of our family tea bowl, but it is our tea bowl – one I thankful to place on the mantel of my heart. The stories of our cracks point to the stories of our restoration and the restoration that is coming.

I closed the door to my bedroom and walked into my living room. I faced the the wood slat wall my buddy, Matt (Mav’s dad), and I put up on my dining room wall. The wood was cut incorrectly, so there are some small gaps exposing the wall paint from the previous owner between a few of the planks we nailed up. I have thought about taking each mistake down, measuring the discrepancies perfectly, and getting new planks for the wall.

But, as I looked at the wall today, I was reminded by the big gap – the big crack – in the middle of the wall of the times we walked with each other through moments of deep depression – moments when the chasm between grief and joy spanned a ravine so large only loved ones, through God’s grace, could situate themselves within it to bridge the grieved to the Light of God’s peace and love. I can’t replace this crack with a new wall because a time will come, probably sooner rather than later, when I need to remember how God graced me with a friend (and his wife and kids) who love me in my own imperfection.

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Our lives are a Japanese tea bowl, dropped, broken, and repaired over and over. The Cross repairs our bowl, but the cracks remain, and the remembrance, and continuation of our brokenness, reminds us of our constant need of repair while also stimulating a gratitude in us for being made whole by Christ again and again.

Image Credit: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2014/05/kintsugi-japanese-art-of-fixing-broken.html

3 comments

  1. What a wonderful piece to read as we spend time with extended family for a wedding in rain soaked state park. Lots felt like it went wrong but the joy was immense and the “mustard stain” memories were everywhere. Reminded me again of the subtle way the Lord works in crafting our lives. Thank you Justin for sharing yours!

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