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Beauty in the scratches

Tuesday, 23 August 2022  | Karina Kreminski

The armchair finally arrived. It looked appropriate in the living room. It was crisp, polished and neat, and had that mid-century, Nordic combination that conveys space, simplicity and perfection. I sat on it and ran my hand down the smooth American oak armrest. ‘Nice’, I said to myself.

But as I looked closer, I noticed something that looked out of place. It looked like the furniture had been damaged. On the side of the armrest I saw what looked like long scratches lining the wood. An imperfection. Damage. I groaned and started thinking about what a long process of would be taking the armchair back and getting a new one. However, the more I studied the marks, the more I wondered if it was simply the nature of the wood that had formed longitudinal lines on the surface of the oak. Were they scratches or part of the actual wood – the natural marking and design of the material? It now didn’t look as polished and clean as I had initially seen it but there was something beautiful emerging the more I scrutinised the wood. I intuitively started to think about the ‘memories’ this oak contained. It had existed in a forest. It had weathered storms, wind and heat, and cool and hot weather. The elements had shaped it and now it was in my living room looking imperfect and worn, yet interesting and meaningful.

It made me think about Jesus’ resurrection body. When he appeared to the disciples resurrected, his body was not ‘perfect’ but instead carried the wounds inflicted on him through the crucifixion. And Jesus was not shy about letting people know about his scars. Jesus showed his disciples his wounds (Luke 24:40, John 20:20). In John 20:27, Jesus invited Thomas to examine his wounds and to ‘put your finger here and see my hands’ and then ‘reach out your hand and put it in my side’. Thomas was encouraged to see, touch and experience the wounds of Jesus. There were several ways the disciples were able to identify Jesus after the resurrection such as breaking bread, experiencing warmed hearts, prayer, Jesus calling a person by name. Yet one sure marker of his identity was his wounds. When we see Jesus at the end of all things, we will be able to know him because of his wounds (Revelation 5:6, 5:12, 13:8, 21:27). There will always be the memory of Jesus’ suffering, sacrifice and clash with the evil in this world. We will remember this together as we gaze on Christ’s wounds. They will become our identifiers as the people who belong to the lamb that was slain. Rather than imperfections, these wounds point to the beauty of who Jesus is and the memory of his kenosis. Wounds, scars, scratches, they all carry traces of who we are. In that way they are visual and silent storytellers.

It’s been hectic lately. My husband and I have moved house. Moving house is stressful. But we were not just moving – we were and are making a home. This takes time and patience and for us it also has meant engaging in that dreaded yet rewarding process – renovating. And it is through this dreaded yet rewarding process that we discovered that our little unit is, well, quirky. Many things don’t quite sit right. When we asked someone to help us with our wardrobe, he measured the space and found that the lines, windows and frames were a bit off, not quite right, left of centre. Often times we heard ‘interesting’ from the mouths of tradespeople after they measured the structures in our unit.

What this meant was that every time we attempted to change something – to renovate – we had to work with the glitches, imperfections, scars and quirks of the building. This was frustrating and time-consuming. It was like trying to bend something perennially crooked back into perfect shape. And this, we realised, was a bad strategy. So we gave up and tried a more intuitive process. We decided to work with the quirks. Once we did that we had a revelation. The more we let go, the more we connected to this new place, bonded with it and even grew an affection for the quirks. We wondered how those imperfections and quirks happened. Was it simply bad workmanship? Or was it the weather that had made the wooden windows stretch, bend, groan and stick together like they did? Was the foundation slightly shaky because our suburb is built on sand? Why was it built on sand anyway? What stories lay here?

The Japanese term wabi-sabi is a beautiful and honest way of thinking about aesthetics in relation to everyday living. Life is imperfect and transient. Life is about appreciating the beauty in imperfection and incompletion. Life is found in the scratches, quirks, wounds, the left-of centre – and those imperfections. That’s where we find meaning and memory, and it’s where we find our humanity.

It is where we see the humanity of Jesus. Jesus the True Human models for us that our scars, scratches and wounds can be beautiful because they point to who we are. They tell a story of pain and hopefully, possibly, redemption. They need not be shameful. We need not hide them, but we can invite people to ask us about those scars and to know us deeper. The wounds allow people to know who we truly are and see us in all our humanity. And even if we do not experience the redemption of our wounds now, we will at the restoration of all things.

So I’m happy with my quirky unit and scratched-looking oak armchair; it moves me to wonder, compassion and connection. It makes me think how fleeting and complex life is. It’s not instinctive to live this way in a society that values perfection, immortality and completion (see botox, implants and so on. We seem to want to hide our scars, imperfections and wounds. But now I wonder if, ultimately, it’s those quirks, wounds, scratches and imperfections that make us a more interesting and meaningful society – and a humane one.


Karina Kreminski is co-founder of Neighbourhood Matters and the author of Urban Spirituality (2018). She is an ordained minister, has a doctorate in missional formation and was a Lecturer in Missional Studies at Morling College.

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