When I first became a Pastor I discovered that one of the young women in the parish has her entire right arm tattooed in various patterns and colors. When I first saw it I remember being startled! Having now been exposed to Hawaiʻi and developed a love for all things Hawaiian I can appreciate that her tattoos are not only for decoration but actually for telling her story to all who are willing to read it! (click any thumbnail for larger image)
As I have worked further with my series “Hawaiian Memories” tattoo elements are more and more making their way into the pieces. In Hawaiʻi one sees many people sporting tattooed limbs to greater and lesser degrees. Some choose patterns that are ancient, some choose symbols that already exist and some create new symbols that tell the story of their inner life. That inner life, what we call “spiritual life”, is the struggle for balance, the struggle to unite our inner and outer lives.
No one asks for the life that they are born into. We come into this world within a specific family, a specific place, a specific time and a specific country. Things happen to us that we neither asked for nor had any say in. As someone who deals with people who are struggling to understand themselves I have often seen that just because there is no scar tissue on the skin does not mean there aren’t wounds deep within which interfere with daily living. Those wounds need to be healed.
We are who and how we are right now not so much because of the things that have been done to us but more importantly because of how we have chosen to respond to those things. One of the ways in which we can promote our inner spiritual growth is by talking with those whose own experience can help us to understand ours. For the health of our soul what we won’t talk about becomes what we must talk about! The extent to which we are willing to be known is the extent to which we are free, and we grow only when we are free!
While I have no desire to obtain any tattoos for myself, nonetheless I really like the idea of people creating tattoos that tell the story of their inner journey, symbols which tell all who see them who the wearer is. In the end the willingness to reveal the inner self is the willingness to be seen, to be known… and that willingness can go a long way to heal the hurts inflicted upon us in the past.
It occurs to me that a good exercise for coming to know the self would be to gather together various tattoo symbols that appeal to the person, who can then sit and figure out what the story is that these symbols are telling. The final step could be to form this story into a series of tattoos which proclaim that story to the world. I wonder what my symbols would be? What would yours be?