"There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything). That's how the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen
I called it the vase of power. It lived in the living room of my friend Brad (names have been changed to protect the innocent). It didn't look like much of a treasure to me, but it sure was to his mother. We didn't see the vase much because the living room was off-limits to all children. Of course, the fact that someone told us we couldn't go in the room made us want to go into it all the more, and one day, that's exactly what Brad and his sister Katie did. That was the day the vase gained its power over them.
Brad's parents went out to dinner and left the oldest child, Mike, "in charge." Brad and Katie were running through the living room and, you guessed it, the vase fell and broke. Mike ran into the room talking about cost and trouble, and there was a great deal of moaning and gnashing of teeth. Then Mike had an idea. He agreed to fix the vase. He glued it back together and situated it so that the cracks were facing the wall. Their mother would be none the wiser, or so they thought.
Brad and Katie were terrified that the secret of the broken vase would get out. Each time their mother looked at them or walked by the living room, they held their breath, sure that this would be the day they would be uncovered. They were so afraid of what might happen that they began avoiding their mother. They also became slaves to Mike and the secret of the vase. When it was his turn to mow the lawn or set the table for dinner, Mike would remind them of the secret and how easy it would be to reveal it, and suddenly they were hard at work doing his chores.
Then one day, Brad and Katie could take it no more. Amidst tears and words of apology, they confessed to their mother. She reminded them that she cleaned the house, and this included the vase. She told them that she saw the cracks and knew all along that someone had broken it. She was waiting for them to tell her.
In an instant, the great power that held Brad and Katie in its grip was released. They no longer cowered in fear that their secret would be uncovered and they stopped serving the secret. It wasn't pleasant for a short time, but the relationship with their mother was repaired and in it they found love and forgiveness. And they were no longer slaves to Mike.
They all moved forward, but first they had to name and claim the thing that had power over them. Only then could the hold it had on their lives be released. They had to go through confession to fall into the arms of forgiveness. Until it was out in the open, they would serve it in one way or another.
We all serve something. There are things that are voluntary, like family, friends and church. There are also things that force us into servitude, sometimes alcohol or drugs, the constant need for approval, anger, envy, gossip, or the demand to always be right.
Fall is right around the corner. I always associate this season with beginnings, even more so than January. It is likely a hold-over from days as a student where it seemed that the re-set button didn't get pushed until a new school year started. Even if we don't have school-aged children or think of fall as a season of beginnings, we all at any given moment, stand on the beginning of something. As we begin we are ready to jump to forgiveness and the new life on the other side, but if we don't acknowledge those things that separate us from God and the good he intends, they will always be waiting in the living room of life, just like the vase, calling to us, reminding us and filling us with the regret and shame that rarely allows us to truly move forward.
I think deep down one of our greatest fears is that we will be uncovered and left that way. If the secret of what we've done or how we are is out, we will be in a free fall that won't end. This even applies to our relationship with God. Although we say we know there is forgiveness with God, I think sometimes we doubt it. We feel that if God really knew, that he couldn't really forgive.
So we cover ourselves with the secrets that sap us of energy and dry up our souls. We as a society are losing the ability to confess the things done and left undone. It is a basic competency of our lives in relation with God, but we want to skip over it, because it makes us uncomfortable and reminds us of things we are trying to forget. But, it is the way to get up off the ground and truly move forward, stronger than we were before our fall.
We try to move forward and wonder why we always end up where we started. We become slaves to the lowest common denominator and cover ourselves with bad behavior that left unchecked will ultimately cause us to do things we regret. We justify such behavior by telling ourselves it's the only way to get ahead or that everyone else is like this or that, or at least I'm not as bad as that. God calls us to be more. As children of the living, loving God, we are not just like everyone else. We are called to be more.
Jesus through his baptism shows us where to begin. John is by the River Jordan asking people to repent and turn to God. Jesus comes to him to be baptized. John resists, but Jesus persists. The one who was already clean, already in perfect relationship with God crawled down the muddy bank and was cleansed in the waters. Jesus stands in the Jordan River, just as he lay in the stable as a helpless baby, just as he will hang on the cross of his death, because God is in Christ, identifying himself with us in our births, lives and deaths. He is standing right in the middle of the dirty water with us, in the torn places of our lives. He will show us through his ministry, death and resurrection how to be reconciled to God. It doesn't begin at the cross or tomb. It begins in the cleansing waters of repentance and confession.
When we turn to God and repent we will hear the same voice that Jesus heard when he emerged from the water. "This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17). We will be covered through forgiveness and strengthened to serve in new ways.
There is a Japanese art called Kintsugi. It involves taking broken ceramics and re-piecing them. The technique uses precious metal, usually liquid silver or gold, to bring the pieces together and enhance the broken places. The previously unusable pieces are more refined and take on new beauty and usefulness through the "scars." Our broken places, like the broken vase, can take on beauty and become a source of freedom and power as we acknowledge them and re-purpose them. These scars are often the way light shines into the world through us. Others can take strength and encouragement from the refined breaks in our lives that are not hidden but used. One of my favorite quotes from literature comes from Cormac McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses: "Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."
Who or what will you serve? That is an important question that will not just determine the course of our beginnings, but the rest of our lives.