My grandfather knew how to keep time moving. Head bent over the wooden jeweler’s bench at the back of his jewelry store and peering through a small magnifying loop attached to his glasses, he repaired watches. He patiently disassembled gears and springs, then putting them back together so they could once again keep time.
In this time when everything from our streets to our political systems seems broken, I am wondering what we are asked to repair – in the world and in ourselves – and how do we know how and when to repair as well as when we might need to start over anew?
With a watch, it’s obvious it needs repair when time stands still. But when it’s just running fast or slow, it might take a while for us to realize something is amiss. So too with less mechanical things prone to breaking down – relationships, systems, practices, communication, understanding, organizations. Perhaps the first fix to consider is letting ourselves stand still long enough to notice what needs repairing. Spiritual practices are one way we can slow down enough to notice and acknowledge the brokenness within and around us.
Once we do notice, the rapid pace of change itself can make it difficult to know how to begin our repairs. My grandfather would not have the knowledge needed to fix today’s gearless digital watches. Likewise, when we look at the brokenness of the environment and our large institutions and the continuing challenge of overcoming systemic oppression, we often do not know how to fix them. Our work of repair requires creative engagement as much as old knowledge – a willingness to let our hearts and minds stretch as bridges between past and future, learning as we go.
The word Repair traces its origins to an old French word meaning “to make ready, again.” Notice, it is not a matter of perfection – original or restored. Nor about false promises of returning to the state something was in before breaking. Repair, at its core, is about preparing to begin again.
How relevant to today’s challenges, as we work to repair our relationship with nature and with one another across differences of race, gender, religion or politics. And, how ancient too, rising as it does from the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam. According to the story from Jewish mystic Isaac Luria, before creation there was only a holy darkness. Then God piped in wholeness and divinity as a great ray of light, bringing about all forms of life. But the vessels carrying the divinity shattered and ten thousand shards of light became scattered and embedded in every being and part of creation.
Humans, as the story goes, were given the task and capacity to find this hidden light in all beings and events in the world and make it visible by our interactions with those events and beings. This human task, known as Tikkun Olam, is restoring the wholeness of the world.
It is clear that the brokenness around us and within us today cannot be repaired by returning inner gears into their old alignments. But can we understand our task of repair as one of uncovering the hidden light, first in our own hearts, and then in the world around us? Might this make us, and the world, ready again – for justice, for wholeness, for the beloved community we long to make real?
If you want to write about this, choose one broken relationship or system or process that you wish to be part of repairing. What will prepare you to engage in that work in a meaningful and lasting way? Then write from this prompt and follow wherever it leads: When I look at this brokenness in the light of my own broken heart . . . .
Adapted from a reflection published in CommUNITY, February 2020