Today I learned about a modern Jewish phrase and a bit of the story behind it. I was very intrigued by this story because it was a complete twist on the creation story that I was taught in Sunday school growing. up. I’ve always loved the creation story. There is so much beauty, depth, and layers in this seemingly simple story. I could go on and on about this story, and if you have ever had a conversation with me about the Bible you know this to be true. The phrase that I learned about today is tikkun olam meaning to repair the world.
The phrase is from the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It’s based in a story called shevirat ha-kelim or The Shattering of the Vessels. The story basically tells of the very beginning of creation. It tells of God wanting to create so God moves to make room. When God no longer occupied the space there was darkness. So God said, “let there be light”. The light came to be in holy vessels that couldn’t hold the divinity in and shattered. This caused a holy mess (sorry, I just really wanted to say holy mess). The story says that this is why we were created. We were meant to repair the world by cleaning up the holy mess. To gather the divinity and bring it back together.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest creation myths and the possible inspiration for the above and the Genisis account (but that’s a whole other story), the story tells of the creation of humanity. In it, a god is sacrificed to make humans because the workload was way too much for the god beings. This god’s blood and body are broken and mixed with clay to make us humans in the gods’ image. Even in this story, humans are made to be a divine help to work and clean up a holy mess.
In Japanese culture there is an art form called Kintsugi meaning “golden joinery” it is a process of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer mixed with precious metals. The process and finished product are then seen as making the whole more beautiful and precious than before. It became a holy mess and the skillful work of a divine artist made it more whole than it was before.
In the United States of America, I think it’s fair to say that we are in a right holy mess. We are broken, disjointed, and divided on almost every major issue. Tomorrow will be the inauguration of a man who the vast majority of the country disapproves of. For some reason, we are letting this pull us apart. I’ve seen friends start attacking others on social media for no reason other than the desire to be “right”. I’ve seen some horrible hateful things done by frightened people in order to scare others away. I’ve seen violence in the name of and violence against those perceived to carry the name of an issue that divides us. I’m not saying what side I’m on because honestly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I said last week. We talk to each other. We help each other. We let things divide us even further instead of letting go of our pride and getting to the work of tikkun olam.
We, human beings, are meant for the divine work of cleaning up holy messes through acts of kindness and love. In the narrative I shared with you last week we are the whole of creation. The things we do to further mess things up are things we do to further mess up ourselves. If we are to take anything from the Epic of Gilgamesh is that we have the divine in us. We are the holy mess. We are the ones tasked with cleaning it up. When we come together we are, in a sense, putting God back together. As I said last week the only way forward is together, and when we come together the art of Kintsugi teaches us that we are more beautiful than we ever were apart or even before we broke. So here is our call to “put God back together”. Don’t divide anymore. It’s time to heal the world in a golden joinery.