by Laura Alden for The Christian Citizen
Bisected by jagged, golden streaks, the smooth, green book jacket jars the eye. As if to answer the question, the publisher notes that these visible veins represent cracks mended using the Japanese art of kintsugi or golden repair.
Rather than piecing together broken pottery to conceal fractures, kintsugi reconnects shattered shards with powdered gold and lacquer. Jagged edges are highlighted, claimed, made beautiful as part of a restored whole.*
That is what I want for Christmas – a world put back together after 2020, ruptures repaired, fault lines defined but not yawning open to spew the fear, hatred, injustice and illness just below the fabric of our relationships and social structures.
Of course, as my son would point out (and does), I can wish this so simplistically because I am a middle-class, straight, white woman. Employed, educated, over 50 and then some, a recipient of the many benefits of race, age, class and traditional gender categories, I have benefited from the status quo, cracks and all. And while I know 2020 has been labeled as “unprecedented” in its racial injustice, economic disparity and ideological conflict in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, the years prior to 2020 were not without these realities for the majority of the world’s population, our country and our communities included.
Asking for a world – or a segment of it, a neighborhood, a family, even for individual hearts and minds—to be restored is a pretty big Christmas wish. Maybe by New Year’s….
It is not a new idea to consider Advent, Christmas and the new year as an annual “reset,” a chance to begin again to repair the broken pieces of our lives. But it may be time to rethink how we are to make our way forward in such a time as this – clear-eyed and determined, wielding glazing kits, sewing kits, whatever tools we can muster. We are people of hope, after all. And no matter the rancor and outrage and sorrow and fear of this year, a light is coming.
True, the light may be harder to see in the shadow of so much uncertainty. As church leaders, we may not literally be visible in our communities, tied as we have been to physical buildings. Perhaps it is good for those who focus on spiritual life to learn to live without such physical boundaries. Can we redirect resources for a common cause of justice in our community? Can we identify efforts that make an ongoing difference and are not just a one-shot toss into a beleaguered neighborhood? What will I do differently as an individual – spend as much as ever on people I won’t even “see” on things they probably do not need?
Also true, the tidings of great joy may be a bit muffled this year. There is no replacing singing the songs and carols of Christmas. Could it be that this is our year to listen instead of sing? In one of last summer’s smaller protests, I saw an acquaintance standing with a sign that said simply, “Listen.” I knew the sign bearer to be one who worked at Koinonia Farms in the early 1980s, who had some experience of what it means to listen to another. Maybe masks are good not just for our health but for a listening stance.
Still, you may ask, what about the feasting? Ah, there’s the rub. That Advent dinner, the neighborhood cookie swap, the special family foods – those tastes and smells! –are what will we secretly miss the most. Thinking beyond ourselves, that may also be the case for those who are alone or separated from their loved ones not just this year but often or, even, always. A phone call, text, note, “food drop” or donation to a food bank can go a long way toward filling the empty places in all of our bodies and souls.
There is no denying that the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings of the season will surely be affected by all that has happened in 2020. The question is whether we will allow ourselves – our expectations, entitlements, efforts –to be affected, too. Will we be changed? Will we allow 2020 to make us more aware of the actions we need to take for the sake of the underrepresented and vulnerable among us? I can’t help but think of John Lewis, another loss of this year. Maybe we can get into some good trouble this Advent and Christmas season. What would “The Twelve Days of Christmas Trouble” be like?
As we wend and mend our way through Advent and toward Christmas, the challenge of repairing the body and soul damage of 2020 in redemptive, life-giving ways urges us on. However creative and altruistic, our attempts to seal the fissures, the cracks in the world, won’t be perfect or be done this year or next year either But as we reconnect the edges of our lives and reach out to others in new ways, a glistening light will shine through the half-healed breaks and wounds – both our own and those of others. As the babe born in the manger is again born in us, we can then turn toward the star that leads us into the future and to the healing that we will achieve together.
Laura Alden is publisher, Judson Press at American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
*See Chanel Miller’s, Know My Name, a memoir of trauma and healing (Viking, 2019).