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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Desires of the heart 3

Today I’m reading Ecclesiastes 6:1-2, I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

In thinking about our unfulfilled desires I am struck by how unhappy so many people are because they think they don’t have enough. We live in the most prosperous country in human history but we are marketed to death – and believe that unless we have the latest, the newest, the shiniest, the biggest, somehow we are missing out. And that breeds unhappiness. Our desires get way out of whack I think we all need a good dose of Wabi-Sabi.

Wabi-Sabi is not just a name for your favorite sushi restaurant. Wabi-Sabi is a very significant Japanese concept of aesthetics. A one sentence definition would be “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” It is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things unconventional. Wabi-Sabi means living a simple natural lifestyle; enjoying 
nature and the beauty of things modest and humble.
 Wabi-Sabi means getting rid of the unnecessary. 
Simplicity is the core of things Wabi-Sabi.

It is also two separate words, with related but different meanings. "Wabi" is the kind of perfect beauty that is seemingly-paradoxically caused by just the right kind of imperfection, such as an asymmetry in a ceramic bowl which reflects the handmade craftsmanship, as opposed to another bowl which is perfect, but soul-less and machine-made. "Sabi" is the kind of beauty that can come only with age, such as the patina on a very old bronze statue.

Wabi-sabi is the belief that things can be beautiful if they are worn, aged, broken or missing parts. In fact, not only can such things be beautiful, but there is an inner beauty to things that have served well and now show it. A westerner trying to understand the concept might think that today’s photo was pretty “in spite of” the wear and tear on the Bible. To the Japanese mind, that worn Bible is more beautiful than a new one. It is the opposite of the western tendency to chase the young, the shiny, the “perfect.” This aesthetic is one reason Asians tend to honor older people.

I like the idea that people can be Wabi-sabi. Imperfect, fragile, worn, damaged and therefore beautiful. I think that’s how God sees us…how God sees you!

As I get older I am growing to appreciate the idea that there can be great beauty in things that are aged, worn, bleary eyed, a little paunchy, and in need of a shave. Especially first thing in the morning! The real trick is getting everyone else to see Wabi-Sabi. It takes a major mind-shift for us to embrace the idea that there is a dignified beauty in a well-used object. And that challenges many of our cherished desires and forces us to re-examine the value we put on our various desires.

Enjoy some Wabi-Sabi today. See what that does to your heart's desires.


Today's prayer: Memorize Psalm 40:8 "I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”


  1. Thanks Jeff...I've seen these values of Wabi-Sabi (as well as "Suki") in my work as an artist: I am beginning to see, partly because of the Four Holy Gospels project, that this aesthetics value has an important ramifications in theology as well. Blessings

  2. Thanks Mako. Always appreciate your insights and your ministry thru the arts. I need to come to the IAM Wednesday tea some time!