Beauty in the Flawed

Mike Starkey

The other day I was sitting in a pizza restaurant in central Manchester, daydreaming and looking out of the window. I noticed a group of teenagers, accompanied by a slightly older woman in sunglasses and a man with an expensive-looking camera.

The teens were a mix of girls and boys and they all looked stunning. Every one of them slim, attractive, with immaculate hair and perfect eyebrows. They were clearly on a modelling assignment and one by one they pouted, laughed and threw back their hair – while the guy with the camera took photos.

Years ago, my youngest sister became a fashion model and it started me thinking a lot about beauty and perfection. To glimpse perfect beauty can be thrilling. But what do we do emotionally with the gap between the flawless ideal and what we see when we actually look in the mirror? Models are the most insecure people in the world. They live in the gulf between other people’s vision of perfect beauty and their own reflection looking back at them.

I recently came across a very different angle on beauty. The Japanese word for it is ‘Wabi-sabi’. I know it sounds like something you squeeze on your sushi, but Wabi-sabi is a traditional Japanese understanding of where real beauty lies. It’s the beauty of imperfection or flaws. The dying of leaves in autumn and the rusting of metal have their own beauty. The chips or cracks in a vase make it unique. Wabi-sabi is the ancient Japanese way of seeing beauty in the flawed and the everyday. And it reminds me of two themes at the heart of our faith:

One is Grace, God’s love for damaged and imperfect people. It tells us the Creator and Sustainer of the universe already finds us beautiful the way we are, with all our imperfections. Grace tells me I don’t need to become flawless before I can be kissed.

The other theme Wabi-sabi reminds me of is Lent, that season of the Church’s year we’re in at the moment. A season of waiting, of wrestling, of wandering. The season before Easter. The journey before the Promised Land. But here’s the thing. God’s also with us in the waiting and the wrestling and the wandering.

Grace and Lent both tell me something about a Wabi-sabi faith: that God sees beauty in the flawed and the everyday. And that God doesn’t wait for perfection before he falls in love.

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