By Maria Evans
“Getting ink felt right, like it would help her put her life in order, to move forwards. It was her body, despite the things that’d been done to it, and she wanted to claim it, to own it, to prove that to herself. She knew it wasn’t magic, but the idea of writing her own identity felt like the closest she could get to reclaiming her life. Sometimes there’s power in the act; sometimes there’s strength in words. She wanted to find an image that represented those things she was feeling, to etch it on her skin as tangible proof of her decision to change.”
― Melissa Marr, Ink Exchange
In the case of my tattoos, consider them “my identity as a beloved child of God.” On my right shoulder is an Agnus Dei with a stained glass window background that incorporates every color in the liturgical calendar. On my left ankle is a triquetra with a Celtic weave rainbow ankle band, and my most recent addition is a Celtic hound, straight from the Book of Kells, on my right ankle incorporated within a green and yellow Celtic knot pattern.
Some folks have found my penchant in middle age for desiring more ink…well…a bit odd. My standard joke is “When I’m old and living at Twin Pines, I want to have something that the staffers will enjoy while they’re putting my clothes on me and wiping my behind,” but really, it’s much deeper than that. Having tattoos connects me to pre-Christian humanity. Egyptian mummies and other discoveries of mummified ancient human remains, like Otzi the Ice Man, often sport tattoos. Never mind that the word comes from Captain James Cook’s voyages to Polynesia–just about every culture on every continent somehow figured out how to deposit pigmented substances under one’s skin, often for the purpose of ascribing religious meaning to the design. Tattoos are as close as we get to the Church Universal.
The things we choose to indelibly etch on our skin are unique, but carry a commonality in that they often represent the things in our lives that really matter. My tattoos remind me of what’s important to me–my relationship with God–and declare the Good News in a way words just can’t manage. When I feel like I’m spiritually faltering, I can look in the mirror and be reminded that God has marked me as one of God’s own–ink becomes the tangible evidence of the waters of baptism. They are outward visible signs of an inward spiritual grace (and colorful ones, at that.) They keep me in synch with my own mortality just as surely as ashes on my forehead from Ash Wednesday–and unlike the ashes, they can’t be rubbed off. When I die, I will wear them to my grave; time and decomposition will free those pigments from the confines of my skin just as my soul will be freed from the confines of my mortal coil. Interestingly, there’s a comfort in that.
Yet, when it’s all said and done, perhaps it is the young man in Lui, South Sudan, that I met on my mission trip in 2012, was the one who was the most astute of all. He looked at one of my tattoos, touched it ever so lightly, and asked, “Your tribe?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” I smiled. “Your tribe, too. Our tribe.”