Pondering Tattoos and Jesus

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about a weighty topic, such as Integrity or Solitude, but what’s been going through my mind recently is, on the surface, more superficial: I’ve been pondering getting two tattoos when I turn 30 next May–one of a sun on my left inner forearm, one of a lotus flower on my right inner forearm.

The imagery should be obvious to readers of this blog: Light and Lotus, visual representations of my faith.

Yesterday, I began wondering if perhaps instead of two tattoos, I could merge them into one by placing the lotus flower in the bottom of the sun. Doing this, however, would leave an open space above that would seem too empty. The question then arose as to what would I fill it with? My first thought was a silhouette of a person meditating in the lotus position, but I ruled this out for two reasons: 1. I’m unable to meditate in that position, so this image simply wouldn’t be meaningful enough to me to warrant being marked permanently on my skin; and 2. I want balance between my two religions and this would make Buddhism be overly-represented.

The second thought was of a cross, just a simple black-line cross, not a crucifix.

This has led me to rather thorny questions about what I believe about Jesus, or, more aptly, how unconventional my relationship with Jesus is. Getting a tattoo of a cross–even a simple one–would send a message to all who saw it that, look, I’m a Christian.

And yet I’ve been wrestling with that question for years and had, until this thorny tattoo question popped up, been just… well, ignoring it. Placating myself with phrases like, “Labels aren’t important. Faith is.” What makes someone a Christian? My in-laws would give a narrow definition and use words like “Bible-believing” and “Jesus as savior”. In their eyes, I don’t think I count as a Christian. The church I grew up in, the Catholic church, wouldn’t count me as a Christian either, as the Nicene Creed, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection–all these I doubt. In fact, I’m fairly certain most people who call themselves Christians would have a hard time with me counting myself amongst them.

I am, after all, a Buddhist. That by and of itself would disqualify me as a Christian for a whole lot of self-identified Christians.

And yet, I used the phrase “relationship with Jesus” when talking to my husband about this tattoo idea last night. Granted, the context was something like “I don’t know if I’d want to get a tattoo of a cross given how uncertain my relationship with Jesus is”, but that phrase is indicative in and of itself.

And here’s where I’m becoming uncomfortable.

You don’t have a relationship with a dead man. (Let’s not think of exceptions to this, please.) Would I talk about my “relationship with Buddha” or my “relationship with George Fox” or my “relationship with Chenrezig (the bodhisattva of compassion)”? It’s hard for me to imagine actually using those phrases.

The truth is that I’ve been having an ongoing relationship with Jesus since I was a kid. He’s been my main inspiration for how to live morally and ethically. That cliched question “What would Jesus do?” is one I’ve used as my internal moral compass even before I ran into that question in middle school. I haven’t reread the New Testament some half-dozen times out of scholarly interest, but because I want to know Jesus better: who was he? what did he really say? what did he really do? what did he really mean?

But another truth is that I don’t pray to Jesus. I pray to God, and addressing a prayer to Jesus has always made me feel uncomfortable, like I’m trying to be someone I’m not. I don’t believe in the Virgin Birth. I seriously doubt the tale of the Resurrection as told in the Gospels.

But Pentecost I can accept. That the Holy Spirit could settle in a group of worshipers and draw them closer to God. I believe this because I’ve experienced it for myself at Meeting for Worship. Not every Meeting for Worship, of course, but enough.

To me, the cross has always been a symbol first and foremost of the cost of following God, a visual reminder that doing what is right can have deadly consequences. This is an important symbol for me and one I still have around my house to remind me that following God isn’t always easy.

But as I’ve been writing this post, what has occurred to me is that the Light–represented by the sun in my possible tattoo–is also a symbol of Jesus and one that I’ve always felt a strong attachment to. So I return to my original plan (two simple, small tattoos done in black ink on each forearm, one of a sun, one of a lotus), with new knowledge about my connection with the image of the sun.

If I am a Christian, this is how: because the Inner Light, that Inner Christ, has always been guiding me, nudging me toward God.

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3 Comments

Filed under belief, discernment, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, meeting for worship

3 responses to “Pondering Tattoos and Jesus

  1. Spooky

    I’ve always thought the idea of praying to Jesus a little strange. I guess I have an odd view on the subject because I was not raised with any religion and it’s not one I’ve ever spent a lot of time learning about. I’ve always preferred the idea of Jesus as a moral role model.
    Also, I really, really like your interpretation of the cross. The idea that some guy died for my “sins” thousands of years ago seems absurd to me. However, the idea of the cross as a reminder that doing the right thing is not always easy, but is worth sacrificing for is very powerful for me.

  2. I don’t think Jesus prayed to Jesus either. On another hand, he seems a clear example of an avatar of God, whatever that means. For one thing, there are texts in John that imply, at least to my understanding, that he saw everyone as an incarnation of God, simply not seeing this as clearly as he was doing.

    Maybe you could be one of those unusual people without tattoos?

    Cross + Sun is going to end up as a symbol of Venus (depending on orientation of viewer.) New Mexican Indian style Sun? (cross, God, Light. ‘Light’ as symbol of ‘Buddha Nature’ perhaps?)

    • I ended up not getting the tattoos because of health and financial concerns. I’m trying to … live out the tattoos now. After all, what better way is there to display my faith than how I act?

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