Repaired with Gold: On Perfection & the Atonement

Tinesha Zandamela is a BYU student double majoring in Sociology and French, with plans to go to law school. She has worked as a director of a nonprofit in Utah. Tinesha published a book about her experiences as a biracial Mormon woman that is available on Amazon Kindle.

In a recent BYU devotional by Sister Cassy Budd, she discusses kintsugi and how it relates to the Atonement and our mistakes.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art. Its purpose: repair broken pottery with laquer mixed with beautiful metals, such as silver or gold. The breakage is seen as a part of the history of an object, an event during the object’s existence. It embraces the flawed nature of the object. The process of kintsugi was used in Sister Budd’s talk to describe us as humans—our mistakes and flaws can be fixed to create something even more beautiful and that is what the Atonement was all about.

I’d heard this comparison previous to this devotional, and at first, I accepted it. However, over the past few months, I became more and more angry with the idea that mistakes permanently break you.

I reflected often on mistakes I made. Each time I thought about those past choices, I pictured a vase being dropped from several stories, only to be completely shattered on the ground. Yes, I repented and was gathered up off the pavement to be put back together. But I still made those mistakes in the first place, and I felt I could never escape from them. The scars would always visible, and people I loved sometimes pointed out those scars, reminding me that maybe I could never change or that I never would. I had been put back together, but I would always be fundamentally broken.

For those reasons, I gave up on the kintsugi philosophy. I then trapped myself in a cycle of guilt and wondered if I had actually ever changed. I thought I had, but maybe I hadn’t. I was still scarred, and I would always be scarred. I sat in church, looking around and feeling as if maybe I was the only broken vase, the only one who had done anything wrong. It felt like that.

Understandably, when I heard Sister Budd’s devotional for the first time a few days ago, I momentarily balked at the mention of kintsugi. I pictured that vase falling six stories and hitting the pavement again, only to be pieced together sloppily with some gold and placed on a shelf next to other, scar-less vases.

I thought over and over again about this metaphor. What I gained this time was completely different than what I had understood before, and, in true West Coast Mormon fashion, I felt it was important to share.

Sister Budd says in her devotional: “When you allow yourself to be paralyzed by your mistakes, you diminish your ability to be useful in God’s kingdom.”

She continues by quoting a talk from Elder Ashton: “Repentance is not a backup plan in case our plan to live perfectly fails. It is not just for big sins but is a daily process for self-improvement.”

She adds to this quote by saying, “Living perfectly is not the plan. Repentance is the plan. Jesus Christ is the plan.”

What was most striking to me was her reminder of what perfect used to mean. Today, we use the word “perfect” to mean flawless, pure, without defects, without shortcomings. However, the word perfect comes from the Latin word “perfectus” meaning to bring to completion. More striking to me still is what I noticed when I used the dictionary: there were 7 definitions listed for the word “perfect” when used as an adjective. The third one: “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose”.

In my head, the vase was no longer falling from a six story building anymore. It occasionally needed repairs. Sometimes it cracked a little if it bumped into something or fell off the kitchen table, but it did not fall from a building. It was not ruined forever. It did not look so unrecognizably different from any of the other vases, because the other vases had also been repaired with gold.

I originally cringed at the word “broken” when discussing humans and mistakes, without really understanding what it meant. Elder Porter explained in his 2007 General Conference address, “When we sin and desire forgiveness, a broken heart and a contrite spirit mean to experience ‘godly sorrow [that] worketh repentance.’” A broken heart will shield against temptation and it will give us the ability to express and feel gratitude for the Savior’s sacrifice.

We will sin. I will sin. That is a fundamental part of the human experience. I looked in the mirror upon returning from church today and better understood what I was seeing: not a woman who had scars everywhere that marked whatever wrong choices she had made in the past. Rather, I saw a woman who was whole. The cracks were part of the entire piece. The individual choices did not need to be revisited over and over again. They were there, and a different, still beautiful, still remarkable, and ever-functioning piece had been created.

I know with certainty that we can be made whole once again. We can work to become more perfect: not less flawed, but more complete and more fit for our eternal purpose. That’s what this life is about. That, for me, is what this entire gospel is about.

Note:
I would like to make it explicitly clear that the repairs made on each of us are made on things we did wrong. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse cannot contribute to any of this, because people who are victims of those abuse did not make a choice to experience those things, and therefore cannot repent for them. If you were a victim of abuse, please know that it was not your fault.

Comments

  1. Nice article. Great perspective.

  2. Ring out the bells that still will ring.
    Forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack in everything.
    That’s how the light gets in.

    Leonard Cohen (I keep it posted on my desk and listen to him sing it so often my kids complain. But on a visceral level, this is the purpose of sin/humility for me.)

  3. We tend to talk about repentance and atonement and the plan (of salvation) in the context of sin and fault. Certainly the General Authorites do. Kintsugi and wabi-sabi are useful concepts but not quite the same, because they do not assume fault or intent but rather reflect the inevitable-ness of cracks and breakage that are our reality.
    I like to broaden the picture, to talk about the plan as fixing what’s broken. That includes sin and error, and it also includes relationships that may be broken by nobody’s fault, by distance and time and misunderstanding, and death. It also includes broken bones and cancerous growths and high blood pressure. It also includes the effects of abuse, which are real and damaging notwithstanding that they are without fault.
    In that picture the kintsugi work of Jesus Christ, the atonement, the Plan, includes recovery from sin, absolutely. It also includes the sealing ordinances, and also the God-be-praised body’s powers of repair and replication aided by medicine old and new, and also psychiatry and counseling, and also the loving kindness of a brother or sister, and also time both in this life and the next. All God’s gift. All fixing what’s broken. All making us whole and ‘fit for the kingdom.’

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Lovely.

  5. I really, really like this. At the same time, the note at the end threw me a little. I realize what was discussed was sin and repentance, but the kintsugi concept applies to our cracks that have been created through no fault of our own, including those created by abuse. I think the unwarranted shame and distress of being a victim can feel as miserable as the shame and distress of being a sinner. Healing from both in a way that draws us closer to God requires a similar process, I think. Both require humility and casting oneself at the feet of one’s Savior, and whether it’s forgiveness or succor we seek, it’s really not all that different.

    Don’t get me wrong, a sinner can suffer a just shame, and a just punishment, whereas a victim receives an unjust punishment (at the hands of the perpetrator) and feels and an unjust shame, so in that way they’re very different. The victim need not repent. But both the sinner and the victim have to humble themselves before God, cry unto Him to purify their hearts and minds, and plead for His healing and sanctifying light in order to be fully healed. Regardless how the crack was created, it can be part of a beautiful and sanctified whole.

  6. ” The victim need not repent. But both the sinner and the victim have to humble themselves before God, cry unto Him to purify their hearts and minds, and plead for His healing and sanctifying light in order to be fully healed.”

    This confuses me. I agree that a victim doesn’t need to repent. But the second sentence appears to me to describe repentance. What is repentance, if not humility before God, submission to God, and a petition for purification and sanctification? Is the only difference that the victim doesn’t have to admit fault, but the sinner does?

  7. I love the analogy the author Anne Perry once drew of a clean sheet of paper. There are no mistakes on it, no scribbling out or erasures. It is perfect and clean. But it is also empty, having no writing or drawing to give it meaning and make it useful.