We are rapidly approaching a day where nothing made will benefit from the touch of human hands. It will be a world of cold, machined accuracy. Despite this inevitability, natural, old and imperfect is not likely to go out of style. Look in any decorating magazine and you will know what I mean, it is the inexplicable need to balance a too-perfect setting with something like a decayed table, or an old wooden barn door - something which looks like it had a few run-ins with life.
The picture above is from our sitting room. In one corner of the room is a pair of side tables made from a rotting maple stump, and a pine cupboard that I made years ago. When people come into this room, they gravitate toward such pieces. They touch the cracks in the wood and admire the natural tones. The pine is darker now than it once was, it has taken on the patina of age and experience. Like me, the pine has also acquired some dents and dings which seem to go with the look. Though I cannot say for sure, there might even be an aspect to this whereby you start to look like your dog, and your dog starts to look like you.
The Japanese have a name for this kind of beauty. They call it Wabi Sabi, a philosophy which celebrates imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness – and that is why I like it. Wabi Sabi is without pretense, and it breaks all the fashion rules by not hiding the quirks and anomalies that make something unique. The Japanese will intentionally leave a crack or repair in plain sight as a celebration of age and experience. It’s an admission that we live in a real world, where accidents happen, and yet life goes on. Wabi Sabi contemplates the truth that in the process of being useful, life uses us up, and the cracks eventually become our own. As such, there is some rubber-meets-the-road embedded in every object, even the human ones.
This puts me in mind of Saint Paul’s reflections from the book of Romans. Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. The marks he bears on his body attest to his bumpy journey of faith. He proclaims loudly and proudly that he is going to arrive at the finish line, bent and broken and yet triumphant all at the same time. There is a personal cost to our participation in life that suggests that all of this antiquing is eventually leading us somewhere.
The Bible is not shy to state that the point of all of this is renewal. Read through the books of the prophets where despite the bumps and twists in the path, there is a promise of regeneration where all things old will become new again. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to this in his first sermon in Nazareth, invoking the promises of Isaiah that God’s intention for us is total restoration. (Luke Chapter 4)
Perhaps a full quote from the Old Testament is in order because it is a beautiful passage of Scripture. It might even be a balm for aching joints and tired limbs.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.”
(Isaiah chapter 61, v 1-3, NIV)
This is all sounding pretty attractive to me, and perhaps to all those gathering some wear and tear through life. Truly good news - even if you thought the old and antique was starting to look pretty good.