WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

From Broken Parts, Whole

By Karen G. Johnston

“Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision. Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together.”
―Terry Tempest Williams, "Finding Beauty in a Broken World"

I made a beautiful piece of art in a mosaic class this summer, but there were times when I was frustrated at my own limits. The teacher used the tools with ease. When I used them, it was clumsy. Still, the teacher showed me how to use the tool; she never offered to do it for me—which meant that by practicing, I figured it out for myself.

I also learned that there were two ways for us to turn large sheets of glass into smaller, usable pieces: the intentional precision of a pistol-handled glass cutter, or using a ball-peen hammer and a thwack of force. Each method renders very different results, both of which are necessary. The beauty of our mosaics emerged from a mixture of precision and chaos, control and surrender.

I had arrived to class with a design in mind but the further along I got—transferring the design from paper to wood—the less the mosaic looked like my original drawing. Which was all for the better. Vision is essential, but I had to hold mine loosely so the final project could reveal itself to me along the way.

Audio of "From Broken Parts, Whole"

Listen to Rev. Karen read her reflection.

From this class, I gleaned plenty of wisdom for life beyond the artist's studio:

  • As much as you can, surround yourself with skillful teachers, no matter what you are learning. Let them teach you, but don't let them do it for you. That learning is yours to do.
  • Respect the fragments and shards, whether they’re multi-hued glass or your life’s own story. Yes, they offer the occasional sharp cut, but they can offer also beauty and new ways to perceive the world.
  • Resist the urge to fully map out the future. Instead, cultivate humility: a sign of strength, not weakness. Find within you the capacity to trust, no matter how small; grow that.

May you get through this life not unscathed, but with all your broken parts available for you to piece together into a beautiful whole.

About the Author

Karen G. Johnston

Rev. Karen G. Johnston (she/her/hers) is the Senior Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Society Burlington in Vermont. Before becoming a minister, she spent 20+ years as a clinical social worker....


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A close-up of green strips of broken glass, as if petals of a flower.
A round mosaic with tree roots, a flame, and a green spiral.