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  • Writer's pictureW.S. BARNETT

Beauty Out of Brokenness

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” Anne Frank

At some point in our lives, we will experience brokenness. The scars we wear are reminders of past hurts and trauma, leaving indelible marks on our hearts and souls. They are also emblems of the mercy and grace of God. Scars have stories and can be the birth of something new.

Japan is known for its frequent earthquakes. However, none could compare to the 2011 temblor that ravaged the coastlands on March 11, 2011. The earthquake that struck at 2:46 pm a decade ago and the ensuing tsunami claimed the lives of more than 19,000 and left 47,000 displaced as of 2020. The 3/11 triple disaster tore through northeastern Japan, with a powerful earthquake off the northeastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Known as the Great Sendai Earthquake or Great Tōhoku Earthquake, the 9.0 magnitude tremor was the most destructive ever to strike Japan since the late 19th century when recording earthquakes and natural disasters began. The tsunami decimated many coastal areas of the country, including the Tōhoku region, later instigating a nuclear meltdown at a power station along the coast. This earthquake was felt as far away as China and Russia.

The tragedy stole countless lives, fractured and displaced families, and exacerbated economic hardship. An uncertain future intensified physical destruction, psychological trauma, fears, and emotional and spiritual trauma etched deep-rooted scars on broken hearts. For generations to come, the Great Sendai Earthquake of March 11, 2011, will be remembered as a day of disaster for Japan’s people.

Songs emerge through the turmoil.

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

Nana Mouskouri

In the aftermath of the tsunami, American Artist Peter Bakelaar, a photographer, and long-time resident of Japan, captured a moment of beauty and hope amid ash heaps and scattered memories. “Blessed Children” powerfully depicts hope in hopelessness, light in the darkness. Bakelaar had set out on that fateful day to photograph images of toppled buildings, decimated communities, and the heart of the broken people of Japan. Focusing on many subjects, Peter was caught off guard by a young boy (his sister sheepishly standing a few feet away) who handed him a bright pink origami crane. He impulsively shot the photo. “It blew me away. I was captivated by his gentle, intriguing eyes. The gift was his simple but meaningful way of giving me hope.”

As recent as March 4th of 2021, it was reported that on February 17th, the skeletonized body of 61-year old 3/11 victim Natsuko Okuyama, a resident from Higashimatsushima in the north-eastern Miyagi prefecture, was discovered on a beach. Okuyama disappeared during the ravaging Great East Japan Earthquake ten years ago. A tender moment of beauty out of brokenness was expressed by her beloved son, who, after hearing the news about his mother’s remains being found, is quoted by the Kyodo News Agency as saying, “I’m extremely happy that my mother was found as the 10th anniversary is coming up. This will allow me to get my emotions in order and move forward.” Even in sorrow, beauty shines, and hope emerges.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

There is beauty in imperfection.

Kintsugi, also known as “Golden Seams,” is the art of repairing broken teacups, bowls, and vessels with lacquer, painting the cracks with pure gold. Each brushstroke of gold transforms the broken pottery into a beautiful masterpiece. Kintsugi beautifies the breakage instead of covering up the defects. A restored bowl with cracks festooned in gold has more value than a pristine, flawless one.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like

fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that

our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

2 Corinthians 4:7

God’s light shines through our brokenness.

Just as Kintsugi transforms broken vessels, God, the Master Artist and maker of the world and creator of humankind, lovingly transforms us from sin and brokenness into beautiful masterpieces with powerful stories to tell of His goodness, grace, and love. He makes all things new (Revelation 21:1-8).

“I’m extremely happy that my mother was found as the 10th anniversary is coming up. This will allow me to get my emotions in order and move forward.”

Stories emerge from our scars.

Art expresses the human condition and has tremendous power to break through exteriors and touch the heart. Stories speak through music, literature, visual arts, poetry, and other arts genres. During the artmaking process, singing, or dancing, we experience a sense of calm, peace, and hope. Finding our voice through the arts is a new experience, which can be intimidating. Survivors have an invaluable opportunity to touch and lift up others in trauma with their stories of hope.

“How unspeakably wonderful to know that all our concerns

are held in hands that bled for us.”

John Newton

Anglican Cleric, slave ship captain turned abolitionist, and poet – John Newton’s powerful story of beauty out of brokenness shines through the lyrics and melodies of his timeless treasured hymn – Amazing Grace. This century-old canticle is a testimony of the transforming power of Jesus from sin and brokenness, ushering us into the throne room of Grace, captivating our hearts with hope – the hope of glory.

In an unprecedented lingering pandemic, singers all over the world united in global solidarity to bring hope and comfort amid the crisis. Singer-songwriter Judy Collins led the charge with 1,000 professional and amateur singers who performed in their homes worldwide. Newton’s beloved hymn symbolizes hope, touching hearts for centuries.

By now, you’re probably singing or humming the song, just like I am. Can you feel it? Can you hear it? How sweet the sound!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I am found

Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

And grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares

We have already come

‘Twas grace has brought us safe thus far

And grace will lead us home

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright, shining as the sun

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun

(John Newton, 1772)

Copyright 2023, William S. Barnett, M.Min.

No portion of this content can be copied, electronically stored, or reproduced without the author’s express written permission.

“Blessed Children” Peter Bakelaar, 2011, used by permission.

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