Call me a Boomer. Among the more surprising developments across my nearly seven decades of life is the now widespread practice of tattooing. As a child in the 50’s, the only tattoos I ever saw were on the occasional sailor, and we rarely saw many of them. Indeed, I don’t think there was a tattoo parlor anywhere in our city, and if there were, it would have been on the shady side of town. So, it was with an old-fashioned, skeptical eye that I first began to see (and judge) the advent of tattooing in the 2000’s. What was an isolated thing at first, a fashion of youth, is today rather ubiquitous. You see them everywhere, across age groups, religious groups, etc. Indeed, I suspect there are a lot of tattoo’s that we don’t see, inscribed in places that have meaning for the wearer, though not meant for the public eye.
I no longer judge them. They are clothing, of a sort, ink suits and badges, performing some of the things that clothing has always accomplished, but in a manner that indicates a deeper commitment or need. Adam and Eve (in their sin) found that they were naked and they sought to hide. They covered themselves with leaves. We’ve been covering ourselves ever since. Generally, our coverings are “identities,” false modes of being that always hide the truth of our shame. Our shame is painful – who would want it to be seen?
And so we wear our school colors, our class uniforms, the styles and fashions that seek to say many things about us, often suggesting things that are misleading. Our removeable identities seek to make us more than we are. The school colors and merchandise seek to say, “We won,” even though “we” didn’t play a single minute. They played. We watched. But our make-shift identities say that they are us and that we won.
It’s a tribal thing. Nations are but tribes writ large, flags but tattoos on a pole.
And then there are God’s tattoos.
“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” Isaiah 49:16
This comes in a passage where God is assuring the people of Israel that He will never forget them.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
In our Orthodox prayers for the departed, we pray, “Make their memory to be eternal.” It is a prayer that asks God to do what He has already promised to do (which is typical of most prayers).
There is yet more to be seen in this “eternal memory” within God. Isaiah depicts it as “graven on His hands.” We clearly see the hands of God, manifest in the hands of Christ, who is crucified for us. Our “names” are engraved as wounds in the hands of “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” God not only remembers us (described in such a graphic manner), but remembers us in our suffering. Those same wounds do not disappear in the resurrected Christ, but remain visible, now as marks of His glory.
…if indeed we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17)
The clothing, costumes, and marks we place upon ourselves seek to reveal something (or cover something). In some manner, they shield us, though feebly, like the fig-leaves of poor Adam. There is, however, a nakedness that is not ashamed, when it is covered in the righteousness of Christ, received in Holy Baptism. Its marks are indelible. Within the soul there is inscribed the wounds of Christ, gathering into them all the suffering of the soul. In that patient work, suffering is transformed into glory by the God who will not and cannot forget.
Remember us, O Lord, in Your kingdom!