Embracing brokenness brings the freedom to be
Josh de Keijzer is a theologian and author. After having worked as a graphic designer and art
director he left The Netherlands in 2009 to study theology and philosophy of religion in the United States. After his studies her returned to his home country in 2017. He is the author of “Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross” (Mohr Siebeck, 2019) that explores the Lutheran roots of the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Josh is currently a freelance copywriter. He is interested in radical theology at the intersection of the search for meaning, the function of the religious in a post-christian society, and the quest for a more just society. He blogs at aftergodsend.com and you can follow him on Instagram @aftergodsend
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Embracing brokenness brings the freedom to be, that is, to be there – to exist – but also to be there for others. This is because reality as such is broken. Brokenness is not a historical addition to what was once perfect. It is not a fall from grace or a deterioration of an edenic garden.
The structure of our world, our bodies, our thought, our social communities, the evolutionary development of life on earth… everything is marked by a hole rather than wholeness, emptiness rather than essence, a vacuum instead of a core that needs healing. The nothing that marks the heart of existence cannot be healed, made sinless, or perfected, precisely because it is nothingness. In the end the puzzle cannot be finished. Reality lacks wholeness.
Once you allow the force of this reality to dawn on you, a new perspective can be formed on your own brokenness. Suddenly you are not the anomaly in a world saturated with radiant beauty. Suddenly you are not the exception, the stranger in the house of perfection.
Your brokenness, regardless of the way it reveals itself to you, is analogous to the reality that we call world. You experience brokenness in the development of your own life history, brokenness because of hate, loss, sickness, violence, or the meaninglessness of life. Ultimately, whatever the experience is, your experience can be led back to the brokenness of the world itself.
If there is anything that is true, anything that may be called truth, then it is the claim that life is marked by suffering, that there is no life that doesn’t experience suffering. Even if one’s life proceeds without any significant experience of suffering, in the end suffering will knock at the door. Death is inevitable.
When we finally have the courage to face and embrace this brokenness something remarkable and even paradoxical happens. The honesty of the embrace causes the pain of the void to be subdued. By accepting the emptiness at the heart of reality, that emptiness becomes productive. In the solidarity with the ourselves as the broken human we find space and willingness to discover the other as also broken. Without any overcoming of the void, there is a kind of reconciliation – even a unification – with what is.
There is a connectedness if not a togetherness. In the community of love we find ourselves bearable in our brokenness and even loved in the eyes of the other. We are called essential by the other who can thrive only because we, broken as we are, simply are together with, and available to, the other.
But this is something quite different from finding healing or wholeness. The search for healing is in many ways a flight from the body, even from immortality and death. It is the attempt to find shelter in perfection, in the idealization of the perfect form. Doing this is merely engaging in a dream. Perfection and wholeness are not available to us. Period. And there is no point in postponing (but still promising) their fulfillment to a point after death.
Perfection has always been no more than a dream and an idea. It takes courage to acknowledge this. But doing this is necessary if we want to be able to find our way in this life and to create a meaningful existence. Meaning, then, is not found but created. It is not buried in the depths of a rocky soil but lived out in the sweat of our brow.
When we do this and turn away from this wretched search for wholeness, however difficult it may be to face the truth, we start seeing the other, not as a competitor or one to be conquered, but as one facing the same plight. The reason for this is that facing our brokenness frees us from ourselves, from our obsession with our brokenness and our effort to flee from it. We finally start seeing the other in their brokenness. We finally develop a perspective on the here and now of our finite embodied existence together with those with whom we share the world.
Seeing your own brokenness, therefore, results in freedom. Freedom from oneself, freedom from the quest of immortality, freedom to see others as they are, freedom to serve the other. This is the highest freedom. And yes, it truly is a freedom, even though most people deeply eschew this kind of radical altruism even when it is publicly paid lip service.
This freedom brings its own kind of wholeness. It is an exocentric form of existence in which the self is continually displaced from the center of its own reality. This is possible because wholeness, perfection, and immortality are no longer the self’s priority. However, it is a strange wholeness in which the brokenness is never absent.