Yesterday, my friend and fellow author, J. Dana Trent, posted an article on Patheos titled, “Marked by Faith: The Spirituality of Tattoos.” The article was inspired by an experience she and I had last summer when we attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. We were there to lead a workshop (her), sell prayer beads (me), and sign books (both of us). The Festival was a first for both of us and, along with our friends from The Upper Room, Joanna and Whitney, we made the most of it.
One of the things that caught our attention was an exhibit called Faithmarks, which featured photos of people with tattoos. While the tattoos varied dramatically, the common link was that they were all expressions of the person’s faith. They reflected individual beliefs, profound experiences, moments of grace, and messages of love. Each photo was paired with the person’s story, allowing us a tiny glimpse of each one’s faith journey. I looked at every photo, read every story.
One reason I was drawn to the exhibit was that I have a faith mark. In August 2013 I got a tattoo on my left wrist. It is made up of three hebrew letters that spell the word “hesed” and has seven prayer beads above it. Relative to many other tattoos, it is small, but BOY did it HURT! I almost fainted! I’m not kidding, y’all: at one point the tattoo artist had to lay me down and give me a sugar pill to chew to keep me from passing out. But here’s the deal: it was SO worth it. That tattoo means so much to me.
As part of the exhibit, the Faithmarks people invited Wild Goose attendees to share their own faith mark stories. Here’s mine:
When I was 7 I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. Even worse, he threatened to kill me if I told anyone what he had done, so I stayed silent. I didn’t tell my mom until I was 31.
Though the rest of my childhood was fairly good, still, I lived life from a place of fear. Years of therapy provided some relief, though I was never able to get past a certain point. I didn’t trust anyone, particularly myself.
By the time I reached my mid-forties, I was sick of being afraid. I began to pray for peace. God led me to a program that encouraged me to be still. In the stillness I discovered my spirit had more than a few issues with God. Over the course of two years I aired out those grievances, reconnected with my spunky little 7-year-old self, and realized that God had never abandoned me. In fact, God loves me DEEPLY.
My faith mark celebrates this new place of peace. It’s made up of the Hebrew word “hesed,” which describes God’s love for us – a love that is deep, steadfast, and perfect. Above this are seven prayer beads. Prayer beads have played a significant role in my healing and are another reminder of God’s abiding presence in my life. What I love most about this faith mark is how it surprises me; when I least expect it I am reminded of God’s deep love for me. And I am at peace.
Prior to Wild Goose, I would have simply referred to my tattoo as just that: a tattoo, albeit one that expressed my theology. But now I understand it for what it really is: a faith mark. A mark that witnesses to the deep love of God in my life, a life filled with grace.
As Dana noted in her Patheos article, our bodies can be a way to tell our stories of faith. Do you have a faith mark? Share it with us!