Seeking Integration in a Fragmented World: Kintsugi Integration

Fragmentation and integration are phenomena which artist Makoto Fujimura feels bodily, and about which he is concerned profoundly. What do these mean for him? How may we draw his insights into this ongoing consideration—itself integrative—of integration in a fragmented world?

Thus far I have been acquainting you with matters already developed in my own understanding hitherto—of Polanyi’s epistemology, and from within my own covenant epistemology. Now let us deal in the work of another—Fujimura. It is part of my post as a Fujimura Institute Scholar to attend to his thought and abet it with my own scholarship, especially for the sake of artists in particular and culture care quite generally. In a team-taught humanities course in the Core at my college, we expose students to his vision for Culture Care, and involve them in carrying out “Culture Care Gestures” (CCGs). So I have been pondering Fujimura’s art and his continually unfolding thinking with deep appreciation now for some years. I have known that, for Mako, fragmentation is lamentable, part of the wreckage of modernity in the West, while integration is a deeply important quality to be pursued at great cost.

This past February, however, contained a special installment in my journey with his vision. Mako staged a culture care week in his studio at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. It was my distinct privilege to do some short talks on epistemological therapy in that remarkable setting. Allow me to encapsulate for you that amazing time by sharing a piece I wrote for his newsletter soon thereafter:

Feast. If I had to condense the uncondensable week of Culture Care into a word, it would be Feast. And if you are familiar with the famous story, “Babette’s Feast” (Isak Dineson), know that it epitomizes my delighted sense of this word. Extravagant art born of brokenness invites the descent of God, who graciously rejoins disparate fragments to create profound beauty. And yes, that is the Gospel.

Our week together, around Mako Fujimura, in his studio, as he—get this!—painted, itself transmuted into his painting. The people gathered—artists, musicians, film crew, donors, tea master apprentice, a threesome of panelists—were Mako’s materials too: diversely brilliant, pulverized minerals (or ashes) which he dripped, wafted, or brushed on a canvas together, then stepped back to wait and watch or tend their intersection. It was evident to all present that what Mako says is true: “When I paint, God shows up.” Beauty, artistry enriched through collaboration, break-through insight, boundary-crossing friendship, healing, song and dance, worship, transpired. Oh—and there’s a couple fresh Fujimuras for someone to own.

Mako terms this epiphanic event, new creation. God is the (only) artist. He created, and now when he shows up, he creates anew in this extravagant feast. And point two: this is “churching”: a beauty-filled perichoretic (dancing) dynamic that sweeps into lively and dignity-conferring belonging the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the artist. In fact, artists seem to be exceptionally good at such sweeping. But wherever this graced perichoresis occurs, it is churching. Inured in the deadening commitments of modernity, it can be that the church has domesticated the Gospel, and contained it within walls. But the Gospel (like its Lord) gestures outward beyond the walls, to seek and create in and with “the other,” breaking in and open Western culture in the hospitable approach of God. (David Kettle) “Other sheep I have…” Thus it may well be that a feast in a studio may be the (only) future of the church.

I would say that integration of fragments was just what was transpiring that week in Pasadena. Mako the artist was engendering not only new works of painting on canvas, but fresh works of integration of the people gathered in his studio. This is “kintsugi” integration. A key motif of the week, in addition to Babette’s Feast, was this distinctively Japanese art form of reconnecting the shards of a broken vessel with gold, to yield a fresh piece of that much greater value and beauty than the pristine original. What a graphic picture of fragmentation to integration! The week displayed key features of Mako’s vision of integration: culturally marginalized, suffering fragments, lovingly gathered together, extravagant though simple, “essentiated,” beauty, rendered in the midst, resulting in feast, and in gracious the descent of God.

During the week I had a few moments to ask Mako specifically for his thoughts on integration. In what follows here, I meld his comments with other things that he has written, to produce a list of key dimensions of kintsugi integration.

“Integration is moving toward synthesis of body, mind and spirit—bringing them more together,” he said. “An integrated person has a quality that is happening on a level that doesn’t show up on applications or tests.” Mako indicated that it is this quality that he looks for (or feels for) when selecting people to work alongside him: “I sense immediately that something is going on within them that is moving toward integration.” So integration is a quality of some persons and not others, one which is tacitly forged and tacitly apprehended. It is a process, something one is moving toward. And it is a synthesis of every dimension of one’s being.

He noted, as an example, a married couple working with him who had each had, it turned out, near-death experiences. “It created something unusual—a depth.” Here we sense the felt breakage longing for wholeness of a deeper kind. Integration appears to be engendered, in mercy and grace, from deep suffering embraced.1

In covenant epistemology, I develop psychologist James Loder’s four dimensions of humanness—world, ego, Void and Holy.2 A person, to be fully a person, must have moved beyond the obvious two-dimensionality of the first two dimensions, through an experience of the Void (the threat of nonbeing), into which by grace, descends the Holy (the gracious inbreaking of the possibility of new being). Mako’s Feast, his theology of making, displays these four dimensions. Layering his work onto covenant epistemology renders four-dimensional humanness a matter of integration—of the kintsugi variety.

Another sign of personal integration also coincides with four-dimensional humanness: “An integrated person has a deep sense of self that is secure,” said Mako. “And with that is an awareness of others.” I would say that Mako Fujimura himself exemplifies this quality. Also, for Mako, this simultaneous awareness of self and others is epitomized in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. That week in a small room just off his studio, he had actually set up a small tea room, defined by a raised bamboo floor surrounded on 3 sides by paintings he had produced in response to his father’s recent death. Mako’s friend, Keiko Yanaka, a Tea Master apprentice, was performing the ritual with a few of us at a time. Her movements were choreographed and measured—and beautiful. She guided our novice movements of response into that dance.

To Mako, the tea ceremony, dipped as it is, we may say, in the blood of Christ, and of Christian martyrs in the deep recesses of Japan’s history,3 is itself art, and is kintsugi integration. Deep suffering gave rise to an essentiation of beauty shared together. It does feel like holy ground, and Eucharistic. And the tea ceremony is meant to integrate—to heal—those who participate together. Recently Mako has taken Keiko and some of his Fellows to conduct tea ceremonies in Israel, a culture care gesture—a gesture of integration that integrates.

One time after the day’s main session, Keiko said to me and one other person lingering, “I’m going to have a cup of tea; will you join me?” I wondered what it would be like to have tea with a tea master who is off the clock and letting her hair down. To my surprise, it was as exactly choreographed as the formal session. Perhaps we talked more, but her movements never wavered from the form, and the pace did not accelerate. According to Mako, “Japan is an integrated culture; the US is not.” On hearing this, I felt immediately at a disadvantage to understand, obviously! But Keiko, I believe, made the point. Refined beauty rules.

The tea ceremony, as well as Mako’s Nihonga style, further, displays another aspect of integration which he mentioned as we spoke: “a deep connection between culture and nature, in the beauty of refinement.” It is a beauty which refines rather than obliterates—although sacrifice is always involved. In Nihonga, Mako paints with pulverized precious minerals, such as malachite and lapis lazuli. “By contrast the US entrepreneur can be a man of destructive power, engaged as if in a battle to conquer nature.”

Mako, by the way, is strategically positioned to understand this: he is Japanese—but he is Japanese American. As an outsider to both, he sees each in a way more truly. His very nationality is one of kintsugi integration. Additionally, he has chosen a difficult journey of integration of faith and art, art and beauty, faith and Japan.

Mako speaks much of culture care—sowing seeds of beauty to enrich the soil of culture. ”Culture care is a journey toward ultimate integration,” pulling together in freshly enriching ways the fragments of our lives, our artists, and our time.

Kintsugi integration is of a piece with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Mako repeatedly claims. It is essentiated in the tears that Jesus wept with Mary at the death of Lazarus, her dear brother—tears he squandered extravagantly, given that he was about to resurrect Lazarus, and himself about to die. It is epitomized in the grateful response of the woman’s extravagantly squandered jar of perfume—a transgressive act that Jesus identifies with the gospel as a thing of beauty. The Gospel, essentially, is the ultimate kintsugi integration. “Christ is the center.” But Mako believes that we need a more integrated vision of the Christian faith.”4

Sadly, the church in the modern West has lost touch with its own Gospel. It ensconces it rather in pragmatic and homogeneous walls. It reduces the Gospel to a kind of “plumbing theology.” It has lost sight of the extravagance of beauty, essentiated in a sacrifice, and a gesture. It does not always welcome the marginalized. Yet when Mako paints (always with the help and collaboration of others!), he finds that “God shows up.” Of the feast engendered in his studio in Pasadena that week, he said, “I believe that the future of the church looks like this.” And as I said, I witnessed the knitting of the fragments into feast that week. I too was one of those fragments so knitted.

Mako is excited about having a studio at a seminary! He sees it as a new wineskin. He sees it as “a stillpoint of integration.”5 He sees that his Fellows, all seminary students as well as artists, are working to bring integration back into theology. “They are concerned not just about individuals, but about the food and the place,” he says.

Finally—and this has run throughout all that I’ve said here—integration is the work of beauty—sacrificial, essentiated beauty. When you hear the word, “essentiated,” think of “essential oils.” Lavender essential oil, for example, will have been the product of concentrating the plant down to a tiny but powerfully rich substance. That’s why I also like the word, gesture, in connection with Fujimura’s work. A single gesture can be concentrated meaning, healing, and beauty. And it can be, as per T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, around which Fujimura has also collaborated, a still point in a turning world.

Essentiation, integration, refined in beauty, it must be emphasized, is not homogeneity. The fragments broken and cared for retain, refract, and contribute their rich diversity. Homogeneity, actually, produces debilitating breakage, much like a rototiller can destroy rich soil. Homogeneity is what Mako associates with “fumi-e culture” in his meditation on Japan.

Mako Fujimura is deeply committed to seeking integration in a fragmented world. This is his entire vision and mission. What about me and you? How may we enter into this journey with him? Apprenticeship is needed. But we all do have—we are—key ingredients: broken shards which, in mercy and grace, as we consent, may adjoin and refract in humble glory.

Esther L. Meek, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Geneva College, as well as a Fujimura Institute Fellow Scholar. Her books include Contact With Reality:​Michael Polanyi’s Realism and Why It Matters; A Little Manual for KnowingLoving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology, and Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People.

References   [ + ]

1. Makoto Fujimura, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016). This book makes clear that beauty is born of suffering also.
2. Meek, Loving to Know, ch. 10.
3. Fujimura, Silence and Beauty.
4. Fujimura, Silence and Beauty, 201.
5. Fujimura, Silence and Beauty, 214.