Tuesday, June 16, 2009

tattoos

well, the obvious thing to follow a post on self-harm is a post on tattoos - the process of voluntarily submitting yourself to pain at the hands of another, for a personalized scar. I'm not sure that it's a universal correlation but it's worth observing that each of the women I know who has a history of self-harm also has a tattoo (or more, in a couple cases).

Opinions in the Christian community about tattoos are strongly divided- remarkable, given the facial tattoos of the Coptic Christians once upon a time. Heck, even outside the Christian community...a dear friend's father-in-law spent much of her wedding weekend lamenting loudly that we have "defaced" ourselves, and wondering why on earth a beautiful young woman would do such a thing. "It's like someone spray painting a sign on the Grand Canyon."

There's the loudly expressed views that "it hurts your testimony." "You're just being like everyone else in the world, and one day you're going to realize it's not cool, and you're stuck with that thing." "If God had wanted us to have tattoos He would have put them on us personally." "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit."

These are some pretty serious accusations to level against something only skin deep- that an individual has usurped the authority and power of God, asserting that he, rather than Christ, rules his body. Personally, I believe that most of the people making those accusations are splitting hairs- between my tattoo and their pierced ears, or hair dye, or stuffing their bodies with junkfood, or a refusal to exercise.

Tattoos are as individual as the people who have them. My own bit of artwork is rather important to me.


That stencil is the result of a variety of things that had floated through my head for four years. I can't tell you why I wanted a tattoo at 17- perhaps because at that point, none of my friends had or had considered tattoos, perhaps because they were taboo in the subculture in which I grew up, perhaps because I believed in having tangible symbols of the things that are important to you. I can tell you that at 22 when I finally got the tattoo, much of that thinking had become irrelevant, although the design had changed little.

I'd walked away from my faith briefly....only to turn around and put a white-knuckled grip on it. Because the thought of a universe not created and directed by Love was absolutely intolerable (yes. Madeleine L'Engle has probably impacted my decision to remain a Christian more than anyone else) I'd discovered my tendency to be overwhelmed by despair, and I chose a permanent reminder of hope that would be impossible for me to escape.


It was a dark day-because of lack of sleep, stress, disillusionment. But still important. Yes, it hurt (note my grip on the arm of that chair). However, pain has the ability to bring healing as well as destruction (and, practically- after 15 minutes or so of the vibration from highspeed injections, the endorphins kick in, you go into a zen state, and don't really sense pain for the next hour or so)


It is a powerful thing to say "I'm all in- no reservations, no way out." To take a mark that cannot be erased, that becomes a part of yourself isn't an easy thing or something that should be taken lightly. That tattoo is an expression of confidence that pain can bring beauty. It is a reminder that "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom." (Isaiah 35). It is no accident that slightly over a year after this tattoo, I was confirmed in the Anglican Province of America.

When I'm putting sunscreen on my left shoulder, my fingertips run over a series of thin, pale scars I've given myself-the result of a broken heart, a broken world,despair, loneliness. However, they simultaneously brush against the wings of a butterfly placed there by someone else- a symbol of metamorphosis, completion, healing, grace.


Spray paint on the Grand Canyon? Perhaps. But at least this way, the Grand Canyon is forced to remember it's more than a desert ravine.

3 comments:

Anneli M. said...

I love your last sentence, C. :) And gorgeous pic of you! My experience with friends that have tattoos is that there is always a personal story to go with the art, that it was intentionally chosen and it always sparks meaningful conversation. My thing - changing the color of my hair, I love to do that. :)

Ashley Kaye said...

I am very thankful, and grateful, that I was the one who got to be with you during that experience. Sometimes, as funny as it sounds, I forget about my tattoo... I'll catch a glimpse of it in the mirror, and it startles me, but it also reminds me of all I've been through, and what I've come out of...

charis said...

me too, Ashley Kaye!! gosh, we've got some amazing memories together. I'm very thankful for everything we've shared through the years.