My tattoo has been a quasi-secret for almost a year. Not on purpose—although I appreciate the fact that I haven’t had to explain it until now—but because of the pandemic and rarely seeing another human being who might ask about it.
Even so, I had a few stock answers prepared. If people weren’t satisfied to hear that it was a nod to my Celtic ancestors, then I would share that it was based on my favorite geometric shape, the Venn diagram, which symbolizes the fact that no matter how divided we seem, we are still inexorably connected at the very center of us.
All of this was true, and I figured that would be enough for most. But I’ve promised to tell you the whole story in this series of blog posts and that’s what I’m going to do.
It started at the end of the 2016 election trauma, the brutal and constant hammering of negative news into my skull, into everyone’s skulls, concussing us with worry and fear and unease. I’m sure I’m not the only person who cast my eyes heavenward, earthward, anywhere-ward seeking comfort or a shred of meaning; not the only person thinking: Help. I’m scared. This is crazy. Is this the apocalypse? Are we going to annihilate each other in this struggle over truth and power? What should I do? What can I do?
Many people found comfort in faith, in religion. But wouldn’t you know, at the time I was also smack in the middle of a faith crisis.
Some background: I am a preacher’s daughter. Baptist until age 12 (my dad baptized me by immersion, dunking me in the church tank—one of my favorite memories is the fisherman’s hip boots he wore under his robe—ha!), then he, and we by association, embraced Methodism. My parents were good people, kind people, and I was immensely fortunate to be raised in a loving home. My life was full of Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, retreats…in short, I have been well educated in Protestant Christianity. And like many people, I’ve had mountaintop experiences that fed my soul, and I’ve had long periods of doubt and questioning.
This particular crisis had to do with a rogue belief system that had outgrown the traditional system of religion I was raised on. My desire, my hunger for something transcendent was bursting at the seams like a yeasty dough that wouldn’t stop rising and wouldn’t be contained. Not in a church building. Not in a particular religion. I didn’t know what to do with it, with myself.
I kept going back to a quote by the doctor Herbert Benson, an MD who researched the astonishing power that the mind exerts in terms of healing the body. In his book Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, he wrote: “Believe in something good if you can. Or even better, believe in something better than anything you can fathom. Because for us mortals, this is very profound medicine.”
That’s what I wanted. To believe in something better than I could fathom, something transcendent and miraculous and mystical and joyous and awe-inspiring to shake me fully awake and give me hope and tell me how I can contribute in some small way to the saving of the world. And so I started praying to that Best Thing I Could Fathom. The Something Good. The Better Than Good. I set out my yearning soul to the universe, the heavens, to the endless whatever-is-out-there. Then I sat back with an open heart, hoping to hear something back. Anything. I grew silent. I listened.
And she responded.
(Photo by Cal)