Embodying restoration, the Japanese art of Kintsugi reconnects broken pottery fragments with precious metal brushed in gold dust. Literally meaning “gold repair,” Kintsugi captures a philosophy of beautifying unavoidable imperfections, restoring purposeless cracks to an adorned state of beauty. Though many wrestle to define beauty , all humans have an innate inclination toward what we deem to be beautiful. The tranquility in observing art, the rapture of shooting stars and striking sunrises, and the desire to bring joy to others hint at that predisposition, but the dissatisfaction in limitations to capturing beauty, an ache to preserve youth, and the fear of death reveal deeper nuance: though we continually seek beauty, there is an underlying sadness that it is incomplete and fleeting.
While words in the English language like nostalgia and bittersweetness describe a response to momentary beauty, they fail to fully capture the comprehensive emotional response to its fleeting nature. Nostalgia, a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition, describes a desire for past beauty but in doing so fails to encompass the present and future . Something that is bittersweet brings pleasure accompanied by suffering or regret, acknowledging pain that can come from beauty but taints the beauty in itself rather than its fleeting nature . There is a greater concept to be grasped, a philosophy that the Japanese define as “mono not aware.” “Mono no aware,” literally meaning “pathos of things” captures an underlying sadness at the fleeting nature of life even in the joy of the moment. This idea embodies a love of impermanence, asserting that the knowledge of beauty’s end allows for greater appreciation in the moment . After accepting the lack of control over beauty’s impermanence, this philosophy takes hold of what can be controlled: our reaction to present beauty. Though not exclusive to religion, “mono no aware” has roots in Shintoism and Buddhism, attempting to deal with questions about eternity and hardship that are reflective of deeper human desires .
Christianity offers a unique perspective to the pain of fleeting beauty. The Bible states that the world was originally created in full perfection, where humanity was meant to be in communion with God. However, in a sinful desire to be like God, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, plaguing life with the ultimate ugliness, the antithesis to beauty. Despite being created to be eternally with God, humans were sentenced to an eternal death separated from Him, who was too holy for people to be in his presence. The book of Romans recognizes that we were created with a greater purpose that has been tainted. Romans 8:22 says, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” that the world longs in expectation for something in the future while acknowledging the pain of living . The world is corrupted and though the beauty of God’s creation remains, we daily see evidence of imperfection, sorrow, and brokenness. So where does this leave us?
While there are many ways to respond, the Japanese have responded to brokenness with the philosophy driving kintsugi and “mono no aware,” a concept called wabi sabi. Like the Latin phrase “amor fati,” or love of fate, wabi sabi exemplifies beauty in the brokenness that comes with time . It fixates on the notion of a content acceptance of fate, epitomized by the Japanese phrase “uketamo,” which means “I humbly accept with an open heart.” In response to facing a broken world, those living by wabi sabi live simply, and appreciate excellence over perfection, accepting all that comes their way . As a general philosophy, this appears to be a fulfilling way to approach life. Wabi sabi embraces whatever life brings with contentment, a prevailing response to a life outside of our control. Ecclesiastes 3:1, which says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” acknowledges that everything happens when it is supposed to happen . However, as the passage continues, it deviates from the philosophy of wabi sabi. Verse eleven acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in his time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”  In acknowledging a Creator whose character is then revealed throughout the rest of the Bible, Christians have confidence that despite their lack of control over life’s circumstances, they can place their hope in their Creator. A.W. Tozer, a pastor and author, writes of the human condition, saying “All within us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of mortality and change. Yet that God has made us of the stuff of eternity is both a glory and a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.”  As we live life day-to-day affected by the pain of fleeting beauty, contentment often feels far off. However, contentment comes easier with knowledge of a greater purpose.
Christians have hope because they know not only the purpose of pain but also the juxtaposed weight of hope. In his love, Jesus took on humans’ punishment and died on the cross, as the final sacrifice for sin. There was no earthly being whose sacrifice could atone for the weight of punishment of sinning against God, but because of his perfection, Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient but cost him separation from God. However, that separation was not the end as Christians’ hope lies in Jesus’ resurrection. In the most beautiful demonstration of restored beauty, Jesus rose again after three days, defeating death, and inviting humans into relationship with God through faith in Him. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, Christians can look forward to the greatest restoration of beauty, a future of eternal reunification.
Despite brokenness in the world, we still wake up each morning with a hope that beauty can be found. This unveils an innate inclination towards beauty and desire to see beauty fulfilled. As life is lived in between hope of a perfect world and one not yet restored, Christians are also able to be content knowing that there is an explanation for the fleeting nature of beauty and recognize that the beauty here on Earth reflects something greater. They see the reflection of God in humans, who are created in the image of God, and see the magnificence and glory in the wonders of His creation. They also can long for the transformation of the world, knowing that God promises in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  Philip Henry, a Puritan in the 1700s writes, “If the end of one mercy were not the beginning of another, we would be undone.”  Because of this hope, Christians can say “uketamo,” humbly accepting with an open heart, knowing who gives life and the ultimate purpose as to why He gives it.
- Bellocchio, Daniele, Daniele Bellocchio, Cecilia Dardana, Cecilia Dardana, Editorial Staff, and Editorial Staff. “Kintsugi: The Art of Precious Scars.” LifeGate, June 15, 2020. https://www.lifegate.com/kintsugi.
- “Nostalgia Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nostalgia.
- “Bittersweet Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bittersweet.
- Moor, Lisandra. “Japanese Words We Can’t Translate: Mono No Aware.” Tokyo Weekender, April 26, 2021. https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2020/06/japanese-words-translate-mono-no-aware.
- Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. “Mono No Aware: The Transience of Life.” Berkley Center fo Religion, Peace and World Affairs. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/mono-no-aware-the-transience-of-life.
- Romans 8:22, ESV
- Itani, Omar. “5 Teachings from the Japanese Wabi-Sabi Philosophy That Can Drastically Improve Your Life.” OMAR ITANI. OMAR ITANI, April 24, 2021. https://www.omaritani.com/blog/wabi-sabi-philosophy-teachings.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV
- Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life. United States: GENERAL Press, 2019.
- Revelation 21:5, ESV
- Ellis, Thomas Isaac David. The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.