Episode 26: Everything Is Broken

I have a piece of art that hangs on the wall in my office. It was constructed of broken pottery from the Holy Land. One of our global mission partners made it. She has been working in the West Bank for years now, and every day she sees brokenness.

This piece of art reminds her of the shattered lives we all try to piece together into a whole – a  life constructed from the broken parts of our own selves and of the world we inhabit.

Having walked the streets of Palestine and Israel, I know full well what she is trying to capture in this art. When I asked her if she would think about choosing a piece that I could take with me to my office, it was this one she chose. I am happy she did – as it serves to remind me not just of brokenness, but of the defiance in the human spirit that will not accept brokenness as the last word.

While my travels through the Holy Land left me with a deep awareness of how broken our world can be when seen through the lens of occupation and hatred, distrust and fear: they also afforded me opportunities to see how proud, defiant people maintain hope in the midst of real despair. This indomitable will refuses to buckle in the most dire of circumstances. Smiles appear after tears are shed. Trust is granted after trust has been betrayed. Hope is found when evidence to suggest that it is warranted is hard to find.

There are songs that speak deeply to me about this.

The first is by a group called Over the Rhine. The name of the song is Born, and a line in the Chorus reads: “I, I was born to laugh. I’m going to learn to laugh through my tears.” Every time I hear that line repeated, I smile. My heart is warmed by the courage of such conviction. I am emboldened and encouraged. I will cry – and Lord knows I have. Pain has done her work on me. But I won’t let it break me – and I will learn to laugh through my tears.

The second song is one by Leonard Cohen. The song is called Anthem, and the line that speaks to me is this one: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” That line is so raw, so powerful. It reminds me of a third song, this one by Dylan. So raw, so honest, he simply writes “Everything is broken.”

Indeed. Everything is broken – or, as Leonard puts it: there is a crack in everything. But, hey, that’s how the light gets in. That’s hope, my friends.

There is nothing easy about being broken. There is simply no avoiding the pain and trouble that life is going to inflict on all of us. One option is to anesthetize that pain and brokenness – numb the nerve endings so that they are conditioned not to notice. Only problem is, you often kill your joy by doing that. We must learn to laugh through our tears.

You can shell yourself off from the pain, but then you enclose yourself in a world where nothing gets in our out. A fourth song: Paul Simon sang, “I am a Rock; I am an Island. And a rock feels no pain; and an Island never cries.” But it doesn’t laugh, either. The shell may isolate you from the pain – but crack the shell and the light gets in.

I love the light and the laughter. The broken shards of pottery that hang on my wall are there less to remind me that we are fragile, as to remind me that I need not hide my eyes from the pain and all that we experience in our brokenness. Light and laughter abound in the midst of it all. I will learn to laugh through my tears; I will seek the light that comes in through the cracks.

Gentle friend, may you find light and laughter on your journey through this blessed world. In the midst of the pain and the brokenness, endure and find your joy as you journey your way Into the Mystic.