Thursday, October 15, 2015

Inky Love

Baby Isaiah and my old tattoo
Two ½  years ago, I had a rather large tattoo on my right arm done by Holly Azzara at Always and Forever in Watertown, Massachusetts.  It’s a mommy tattoo—my kids’ names, flowers, happy swallows.  Like children, it took up more room than I expected—neither population has any sense of moderation.  I had initially planned for it to incorporate the female symbol I had tattooed on my arm when I was 19, but Holly was unimpressed, and advised me to start over on the other arm or cover it up.

But I didn’t want to cover it up.
I wrote in this space then about why—the sentimental value of seeing the same image on my arm at my wedding, nursing my newborn children, graduating from college —that tattoo is in all of those pictures. It’s become lopsided and faded, but it’s me. It’s possible that I am also becoming a little lopsided. 

Until, until. I started to plan my next tattoo.  My first plan was to get a great blue heron. They symbolize a connection to place and wilderness that’s hard to come by so close to the city.  I’ve written tons of poems about the heron in the pond by the cemetery across the street from my house, and in the summer they fly over from daytime feeding grounds at the tiny lake to the west.  They’re beautiful and shadowy, motion and stillness at the same time. Grey, black, muted blue.   

At the end of the day, though, a bird is a bird. And while I may still get the heron done,  there was another image I couldn’t get out of my mind.

There is a woman (at least I see her as a woman) looking out with clear eyes and calm gaze. The green beneath her feet suggests the round earth under her. She is love. Just love. She has kind of a square face and looks like she’s seen a lot. But the way she looks out is just clear compassion. Total and complete love.

I sat opposite her window when I was on sabbatical in 2012 at Grace Medford, where my husband is t  So just over two weeks ago (10 months after the original decision was made), after 6 ½ hours of needle time, here she is.
he rector, which was when I was planning the mommy tattoo. And she just wouldn’t let me go.

And you can still see my old tattoo, shadowy in the background.  I have an appointment for January to go over and fill in any spots that didn’t heal properly, and maybe hide that a bit more. But I kind of love it.

The line in the original window from 1 Corinthians—“The greatest of these is charity”— you’ve heard at every wedding—is in the background, but I went for the Latin “Caritas” just on the top instead of all the words.  I have mixed feelings about Latin—you know, there’s that whole central tenant of Anglicanism that talks about worship in your own language—but I am setting those aside in favor of the wider Christian history of it. 

Getting ready to preach recently, I found another place in Scripture where this image resonates.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

It’s an astonishing and tragic moment: he comes up to Jesus and bows down, offering deference and respect. “We can imagine that maybe he’s expecting to be told he’s doing well; he says he has kept all the commandments. But something unanticipated happens—Jesus looks at him, and loves him.  In that loving glance, Jesus sees him and knows him, and tells him what he’s missing. The man was looking for approval, not grace. Certainly not this kind of love that will change his life.  So he leaves.  For his security, and a deeper grief than he’s ever known.

This, it seems to me, is as clear a picture of hell as we ever see in the New Testament. Never mind all that stuff about the eternal fire where the worm never dies. This is the real thing.  All of the promises of God’s eternity so close he could touch it, and instead he turns his back.  Giving in to his fear, he can’t listen to his sorrow.  He walks away.  Even Job knew he was talking to God in the depths of despair, but the rich man has nothing.  Just his money. And he will find out that that’s not enough.

Jesus looks at him and loves him.  That’s what this woman is doing— this look in her eyes is so astonishingly clear, so generous, you can see her looking at you and loving you for who you are. And all of your anxiety, all of your perceived need to prove yourself or justify your status—it just melts. And you imagine that this is what love is.  With all the transcendent hope in the world, I want to say yes to it.

What about all the other stuff? the lilies and stems are Christ Church Waltham. The anchor is just cool, but we have one of those, too)