Spirituality & Theology, Society & Culture

My Tattoos are a Living Prayer

As a kid coming up in a working class home and neighborhood in East Tulsa, I grew up around people who had tattoos. I had family members on my father’s side whose conservative fundamentalist Christian beliefs led them to staunch opposition to tattooing the body. Throughout my lifetime, American culture has come to embrace tattoos in a historically unprecedented way…to an ever-increasing level of acceptance.

Still, people make broad, often irrational, generalizations when they see tattoos on a person they do not know. A lot of these assumptions, if examined closely, are rooted in negative ideas about what it means to have visible tattoos, and more often than not, people do not recognize the underlying dysfunctional belief. Often, these negative assumptions are not rooted in radical love and acceptance, but in fear and division.

As a 32-year-old young professional woman, I feel deeply and genuinely blessed to be able to work in a professional environment that not only accepts but wholeheartedly embraces my tattoos – viewing them as an asset rather than a hindrance or shortcoming. In fact, my tattoos create conversational opportunities between me and my clients, helping us build rapport and they do the same with perfect strangers. Making a conscious decision to have visible tattoos was rooted in my personal ethics and spiritual belief. I would never want to work in an environment where I would have to conceal who I am, fundamentally, to make other people feel more comfortable with their biases. The spiritual and cultural significance of tattoos, a practice as old as the ages, has been well represented cross-culturally throughout the history of human life. Anything that is heavily influenced by a love and deep appreciation for aesthetics, symbolism, expression, and connection to what makes meaning of this bodily business of living, is something worth celebrating in my life.

The conscious process of marking my body with permanent art is sacred.

Consecrated in flesh, my tattoos are a living prayer. Prayer, for me, is about a relationship with a greater knowing – God as I understand God. Prayer is the vessel through which I arrive at the precious sense of unyielding, unconditional love and ultimate liberation – that I perceive when connected to Spirit.

Tattoos are, in some ways, my love letters to Spirit…. a kind of visual record of my gratitude, memories, losses, triumphs, pain, growth, lessons, and resilience. They are multifunctional, communicative pieces of art which empower me to tell my story to the world in a visual context every moment that I’m alive. They inspire reflection about all that has created this story called my life, they remind me of where I’m headed and how far I’ve already come. Of course, they are also representative of my personality, sense of style, values, and ever expanding sense of identity.

Undoubtedly, the most cherished aspect of my tattoos is the way that they act as a catalyst for greater connection with other people and with my self. There are countless times when I encounter strangers who wish to discuss my tattoos and share with me their own art and the stories about their existence. Being visibly tattooed affords me the opportunity to enter into a sociocultural space where I commune with others in a distinctive, conscious, and heart-expanding way. I get to recognize the beauty within my story and recognize that in others’ as well, in the least-expected ways.

I get to connect to God as I understand God while I feel and look pretty too. And since the story isn’t yet complete neither is my tattoo collection. And yes, they hurt. Some more than others, not unlike life in general.

“And this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

“Tattoos are a rite of passage. They’re markers of bravery, of maturity, of cultural acceptance. The tattoo represents not only a willingness to accept pain – to endure it – but a need to actively embrace it. Because life is painful – beautiful but painful…….”

Nicola Barker, The Yips

If people are honest with themselves when they choose a tattoo, the art will represent them better than anything that will ever come out of their mouth.

TROY HOLLOWAY, attributed, “25 Tattooed Seniors Showing Off Tattoos from the Past”


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