I don't know quite why, but I find myself drawn more and more to the Far East these days. Perhaps it's because I'm missing my dad and this is where he saw action in WW2, bravely fighting with the Gurkhas behind enemy lines as part of General Wingate's famous marauders.
Who knows? All I do know is that my thinking about restoration - about which I have been much preoccupied in recent years - has benefited from a profound thought to do with Japanese ceramics.
That is so seriously left-field it has to be God!
While conducting a very encouraging workshop for writers in Germany last November, an emerging author came up to me and asked if we could have a meal together. I was very glad to accept. The next morning we sat over our delicious German breakfast.
My friend shared his story, knowing that I would empathise. His marriage had fallen apart, there had been a great deal of pain for all concerned, and now he was trying to rebuild his life in a Christian sub-culture where failure is often scorned.
"Do you know about Kintsugi?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Never heard of it."
"It's a form of Japanese art. Very old, dating back to the fifteenth century. It consists of taking broken pieces of pottery, fixing them with resin, and powdering them with gold."
"Yes, the idea is to take things that are broken and worthless and turn them into a work of art of greater beauty and worth."
"What does Kintsugu mean?"
My friend looked at me. "You and I are being subjected to a Kintsugi process of restoration," he said.
From that moment on Kintsugi has formed a living metaphor for the restoration process. You see, the beauty of the Kintsugi philosophy is that it treats both the breakage and repair of an object as a valuable part of its history. It does not frown upon fragmentation nor does it undermine restoration. It honours both.
How different from religious Christianity! The religious look down upon people when they fail, fall or fragment. They have not been there so they cannot and will never comprehend. They snorkel on the surface of the ocean of God's grace. They have never dived deep into the Mariana trench of His mountainous kindness.
But those who, like the many heroes of the Bible, have been through the distress and despair of failure know full well the hard-won revelation that God is a Father and a Potter, and that in His tender hands even the worst isn't wasted, even our messes can end up on the shelves of the Father's house as masterpieces.
If you don't believe me, take another look at David's life. His story is a Kintsugi story - a transformation from abject failure to glorious transformation.
Do you know about the golden joinery of the Holy Spirit? When others are experiencing it, do you applaud God's artistry and pray for His glory to be revealed in the fissures caused by failure? Do you say, "There, but for the grace of God go I?" Or do you gloat over imperfection when it's not yours?
It may seem strange to learn about grace from Japanese ceramics, but God loves art and wants us to love it too. He speaks through it. Kintsugi is a fine example.
Japanese aesthetics honours marks of brokenness and wear. As one expert comments: "there is no attempt to hide the damage but the repair is literally illuminated."
Does this not sound like the aesthetics of the Kingdom of Heaven?
One of my father's favourite poets, the Welsh priest R.S.Thomas, certainly thought so. He wrote a poem called The Kingdom which is, in many ways, a description of Kintsugi.
Read it sometime.
And be amazed!
Only those who have embraced real as opposed to religious Christianity truly understand the redemptive manipulations of God. Those who have experienced the tender shaping of the Potter's hands, powdered as they are with gold, know that His grace is bigger, wider, deeper, longer than the cosmetic and sound bite definitions provided by religion.
During my recovery a very old friend, with whom I trained at theological college and who has reconnected with me in recent days, sent me an email in which he shared an extract about grace written by Paul Tillich. He told me that he had recently read it out to a class of theology students, many of whom were in tears.
"Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the deep valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at such moments a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying, 'You are accepted!'"
That sounds like the kind of thing my father would have said.
It sounds like the kind of thing my Heavenly Father would say.
Let's embrace these greater depths of grace.
Let's celebrate evidences of it in those who fall but get up again.
Let's all allow His hands to shape us.
For as Isaiah the prophet declared:
"You are our Father. We are the clay, you are the Potter. We are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8)