Thursday, November 15, 2012

All That I Still Have to Learn

While on vacation this summer, I read the book “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Near the end of the book, there is a passage where she describes the things she is keeping as she moves on to where life takes her, and the things she is going to pack away.  She writes first of a cross, made out of nails and gifted to her when she first arrived at the parish she is preparing to leave, that it had been lost for years and just then recovered and returned to her.  She continues:
I’m glad to have it back, although I have many more, which I liked to wear back when a cross meant only love to me.  Now I know too many people who regard it as a weapon.  Some have been cut too deeply by it, not once, but over and over again, while those who wield it like a rapier seem to believe that their swordplay pleases God.  Either way, I find myself reaching for symbols with less violence in them.

The one I wear most often now is a silver circle with three waves curling toward each other in the center.  Jesus is one of those waves, but he is not the only one.  When his wave breaks, the Holy Spirit’s wave picks up where his left off, and when the Holy Spirit’s wave breaks, the water spills back toward the Wave Maker.  The clerk who sold me this circle told me that it did not stand for anything, but I knew better.  I knew I needed a symbol for the fullness of God, which cannot be reduced to any one name alone.  While I wear the circle, I will keep the cross, even though I am not sure that the symbol can survive its abuse.

When I read this, I immediately knew that I wanted a tattoo of the three-wave circle.  It’s not a religious symbol, at least not the way a crucifix or a rosary is, but it has deeply significant meaning to how I have come to understand and embrace my faith. The more I turned it over in my mind, the more meaning it took on.

It is difficult to fully explain all that this symbol has become to me and why I wanted it as a tattoo.  I attempted to explain it to Chris, the artist who does my tattoos, and never found the right words.  Of course, I was trying to explain it out loud, which I struggle with.  I’ll make an attempt to do it justice here, in written words, but I some things mean more than words can express. 

This tattoo does symbolize the fullness of God, but that is only the beginning.  It also symbolizes learning to embrace my faith and finally understanding that my faith is made real in the wrestling, the questioning, the re-evaluating, the storms and the peace.  It stands for the vastness of all I still don't know, but the grace to keep growing and changing and letting new revelations wash over me. 

Finally, it signifies that I have made peace with knowing that the way I experience God and understand my faith is not the same way many of the people I love and respect experience God and their faith.  Just as the vastness of the ocean can affect us all differently and evoke different responses from different people, the same is true for how each of us experience God; that is part of the beauty and mystery of both God and the sea. 

When I first started getting tattoos, I thought that they should all have a deep and personal meaning, but I’ve since realized that it’s fine to get a tattoo just because you like it.  My next tattoo may simply be something beautiful that will compliment my magnolia.  But this one is deeply significant to me and will likely take on more meaning as my faith evolves.  The fullness of God, embracing my faith with all that I still have to learn, and being at peace with how I experience God – that's the meaning I explain for now.

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