I’m not sure where it began, but at some point in my life I began to hate needles.
I have a standard speech I give to whomever is tasked with drawing my blood: “I’m not going to watch you do this. I hate needles. No, I won’t pass out or anything, but it’s best if I don’t know what’s going on over there.” They shrug, chuckle, then violently shove steel into my arm. Or something like that.
The above details make it all the more interesting (at least to me) that I went and had my arm tattooed last week.
I actually played with how to describe what happened – got a tattoo sounds like it was given to me in a box, over a counter. No, it was much more personal – blood, sweat, and ink.
My tattoo is the Hebrew word qadosh, which means “holy” or “set apart.”
My wife already has two – and received a third after I left the chair yesterday – and so we have had long conversations over the past two years about what I would get, where I would get it, etc.
This was not done on a whim without thought. I had processed it for quite some time, which is important because if you are getting the word “holy” branded on your body (even if it is in Hebrew) you have to think through the implications.
“Am I using it as a self-descriptor?” is the question I pondered the most. How do I talk about this thing on my arm?
So let’s talk about this thing on my arm.
We are all engaged in an existence – work, personhood, relationships, nature – that is soaking with the Divine. God’s fingers are everywhere – the Psalms say that “day after day” the created order “pours forth speech.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
Since frogs and clouds and daylilies don’t literally speak, we have to believe the psalmist is opening our eyes to the fact that the very existence of creation says something about itself.
God is speaking in the weeping willow and the cottonwood, the wood duck and the pounding spring rain. There is something of God's identity and reality in each of them. They are unique, different…something set apart even.
The work I get to do – not have to do, but get to do – is a full interaction with this existence soaked through with God. To teach, to write, to have conversations – these are all sacred, set apart moments.
To make my daughter’s peanut butter sandwich, to move laundry from washer to dryer, to cut grass and prune bushes – these are moments filled with something unique and different…something set apart even.
We are alive in a world where, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem says:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
There are days when we need to be reminded of where we are and who we are. We are made in the image of the Holy, given places and experiences and relationships in which we find out what it means to interact with the God-with-us in all of it.
We are invited to find the God who is close enough to touch (Acts 17) and to link arms with that God in all that we do.
So, on my right arm there is the word “holy” not as a descriptor but as a reminder.
When I am irritated, ready to give up, my skin says “look for the holy”…
When I am in anguish over injustice and inhumanity caused by ignorance or some form of faithfulness, my actual body calls me to listen and wait and learn and then act…
When I feel frustrated or bored or ready to quit, the word qadoshspeaks of something beyond my own emotional engagement with the life in front of me.
I need to be reminded, because I will forget that any ground on this created planet is holy ground. Space primed for something bolder, where we engage with that which is beyond our selves.
So in the tattoo shop there was sweat. There was ink. There was laughter. There was obscure reggae playing overhead.
And at the end of it all I had my reminder. I have it still as I wash it, apply lotion so that it doesn’t become hard and scaly but instead softens into my moving body.
My dominant arm – as a righty - stamped with the reality that I dare not lose.
What reminder do you need today that you are a part of something far greater?
Where do you need to remember that God is as present in packing lunches for children as in the most sacred and beautiful of cathedrals?
Where do you need to be reminded that even the most mundane and routine work, the most difficult and trying conversation, or the most puzzling situation are all simply opportunities to brush up against the qadosh?
Perhaps you need to consider a “tattoo” of your own today. A mark, an item, a piece of art or a pic saved to the wallpaper of your phone or tablet. Maybe today it’s time to find that thing that screams to you “qadosh!” and put it front and center of your waking moments.