Thursday, February 19, 2015

Earthen Vessels

"Pottery Shards"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Twice a week I receive physical therapy for my now-healing broken arm. Over the past few weeks of therapy I have noticed that whenever I enter the "therapy" space, I somehow feel like I am entering a church.  Yesterday, in particular, I was struck with the fact that all those people with broken arms and broken legs, perhaps some with broken spirits surrounded by all the many therapists helping us to heal and be well was an almost perfect icon of the human condition. 

As my therapist massages the soreness out of my broken arm yesterday I thought about how, in the Bible, human beings are often referred to as "earthen vessels." Obviously they didn't have aluminum or cast iron pots back when the various Bible stories were written, the pots and pitchers were all made of clay - clay pots are beautiful but they can be easily broken. By referring to human beings as clay vessels the many biblical stories offer insight and wisdom about our human condition- we are beautiful and yet we break easily. 

Whether or not we want to admit it, brokenness is part of what it means to be a human being. At times we have broken bodies, at other times our hearts are broken or our spirits are crushed. We also live in a world of broken and fractured relationships, lost love, disputes even among friends, the rich and the strong divorced from the weak and the poor, broken bonds between nations and peoples, violence and wars. 

And, although we are broken, we human beings also have the capacity to heal one another.  In fact the very best healers are often those who are able to recognize their own brokenness. As I see it, the primary task of any spiritual journey is not to simply lament our broken human condition but rather to do what we can to heal that which is broken.  On a spiritual path we are called to be "wounded  healers."

I am reminded of the wisdom of the ancient Hebrew "Kabbalah" mystics who tell a story about the origins of creation. In the very beginning, the energy of "God's" light was contained in a vessel, but the vessel was broken. It was smashed into tiny little pieces that were scattered across the universe -shards of "God-Light" spread throughout the cosmos.

According to Kabbalah wisdom, over the course of time, human beings have been charged with the task of picking up those scattered pieces of God-Light and piecing them back together again.  To this very day, faithful Jews are encouraged to engage in the everyday practice of "tikkun olam" - acts of mending a broken world. 

I think that each of us, regardless of the path we are on,  is called to the practice of "tikuun olam" called to be repairers of broken vessels.

When we reconcile a ruptured relationship, when we practice compassion and everyday kindness, when we are merciful and forgiving, when we help the poor and do our part to relieve the suffering of the needy, when we help to heal our broken planet or when we work for justice and peace, we are in fact mending this broken world - collecting shards of scattered "God-Light" and piecing them back together again. 

In the Christian calendar the season of Lent has begun. What a perfect time to recognize how beautiful we are and yet how easily broken; and what a wonderful season to be wounded healers as we pick up the broken pieces and make the vessel whole again.

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