Honey, Let’s Get Tattoos: Tattoos and Embodiment

Continued from a previous post. Read part 1 here

Tree tattooAfter my wife Katie and I decided to get matching tattoos, we spent months pinning designs and discussing placement, and—let’s be honest—fighting over pretty much every detail. It probably had been easier to choose our children’s names. We’re a stubborn and volatile couple, so there was no chance this would be a sweet story; it could only be a struggle of wills. We arrived, exhausted, at a conclusion, but somehow still grateful for one another, and when we finally got to the tattoo parlor, it could only have been anticlimactic.

Our artist, a large bald man named Bear with tattoos all over his arms, neck, and head, told us to walk around for twenty minutes or so while he made the stencils, giving us the opportunity to argue one last time about where to get marked. We had agreed on tree of life designs—mine more Celtic and hers more organic.

The tree invokes diverse mythologies, not least that of Genesis where it represents the source of eternal life in Christ. It also hearkens to an image of growing together from the sermon Katie’s grandfather gave at our wedding. We’d get the design on our inner forearms—my left, her right—so that they’d sort of knot up whenever we held hands, ‘cause we’re sweet like that.

Agreeing to get a tattoo in the first place had been something of a process for me, and it brought me in touch with the conflictual relationship between my theology of the body and my actual emotions about my body and my wife’s. When we actually pulled the trigger, we both learned something about ourselves. She learned she was not nearly so casual as she had thought herself: She reneged on the forearm placement and opted for her back. I learned, to my own surprise, that I existed in space and time.

Maybe that’s dramatic, but that’s how it felt. When I woke up the next morning with a large, black, knotted tree on my arm, I felt a different relationship to the world than I had the previous day, what I knew was embodiment. [Read more...]

How Much God Loves Us

By John Bryant
waterHe was born with cerebral palsy and he has it all the way up until he is completely underwater, when, he says, his whole body is pleasantly different, his limbs smooth and loose and elegant. I hold him under his arms in the pool and he can walk and tell me everything.

He takes three quick steps and can feel the surprise in the way I hold him, and his whole body shakes like a bird in your hand. I’ve never felt a whole body pulse with joy—all hair and fingers and toes—like he is still in the furnace of creation.

When he is done, we float him to the edge of the pool, and I leap out and dig under his arms and we lift him out into his great quivering weight and into the wind and the sun, and the length of his body contracts like a drop of water back into what is wrong. We lay him on his chair and towel, his great knobby knees and his furled, funny, complicated posture.

We push him in his wheelchair back to the cabin, wheels caught and muscling through gravel.  We feel him slip in his chair. We stop. My friend holds him at the knee, and I hold him from the back under the arms, and on three I lift him up to my chest, high as I can, up to the sun like an offering, then back into his appointed place.

I pause, take a step in front of him, just to see him. The sun is in his eyes. His face wide, flat, simple. I tell him we’re close and his spine curves out like a plant growing to the sun, leaving a hollow space between his back and the chair. I push him, tell him about my wife. He smiles, his head tilted at the crook in his neck, his eyes always turned up in reference to something coming up over the hill no one else can see. [Read more...]

Listening to Simone

By Christiana N. Peterson
lady-in-pewThe woman stands in the entryway of our common building just before Sunday worship begins. It’s not a sightly place, but it has every necessity for common intentional community life: a kitchen, a large meeting space, tables and chairs for worship and meals, a bathroom and a prayer room.

At first, the woman seems to fit right in with our unfussy crew: round spectacles, hair in a frizzy bob, a shapeless dress, oversized shoes. I immediately feel an affinity with her.

But I am also wary of her. Something tells me that she has intentionally obliterated anything outwardly lovely in her appearance. This both draws me in and annoys me.

Because I think I know her type. They come through intentional community sometimes: idealistic, stringent in their belief system, radically unusual in their dress. Community hoppers who bounce from church to church, intentional community to community, never satisfied with what they find and always criticizing. Not one of those again, I sigh. [Read more...]

Sign-Seeking in the Dark

By Natalie Vestin

winter churchJanuary is for sleeplessness. Maybe its cause is the temperature inversion that presses pollution down on the city of Saint Paul and holds the river still, pours itch into my throat and eyes as I walk. Maybe it’s the cold and the very real possibility that we would die if left outside long enough. I enjoy the hyper-awake feeling of freezing though: live-wire optic nerve and chunks of ice that shear streaks of sparkling light into my vision, pain settling in kneecaps, lungs burning from all that work to keep warm.

I take long walks in the dark to hide the exhaustion of not sleeping for days. Despite how difficult winter can be, the early darkness makes this my favorite part of the year. I like the silence and mystery and romance of it. Anything could happen, and the air feels rife with messages for people who dare to brave the cold and the uncaring headlights. I like the bruised purple and blue skies, Orion rising in the east, Gemini’s clear line.

My dad told me that at around six pm in the summer, things start to change shape. It’s a trick of the light bending through high ice prisms or scattering its spectrum through particles. In the evening hours, light creates a different world, and things become not as they have been. [Read more...]

God is Sacrificial Love

Titian_1558_Ancona_CrucifixionIf God is love, as we’re told, then what kind of love is he? In the quest to know that which is beyond all knowing—another one of those oxymorons so characteristic of religion—we find a set of pictures that for any serious adult proves ultimately unsatisfying.

Brotherly love, fatherly love, even passionate love have all been employed to express God’s essence through platitudes and poetry, paintings and precepts. God with his hand on our shoulders; God carrying us in his arms; God pining away below our windows, vexing tarts that we are. Speaking for myself, these images long ago began to cloy. To the limited extent that they can voice the truth about the transcendent, any effect they take is all worn out. The fuzz is off the velvet.

And yet, there is one image that does not lose its appeal—that beckons the beholder further in rather than tires him with what only settles and sates. One image is always fresh, with the power of pulsing blood, of throbbing lesion; and therein seems to lie the answer to what kind of love God is. [Read more...]