But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
--Isaiah 49: 14-16 NRSV
On Sunday, I preached about the biblical basis for addressing God in feminine, especially motherly, terms. The scripture read on Sunday came from Isaiah 49, one of my favorite Bible passages, because of the way God compares God’s self to a mother being unable to forget the child she gave birth to. What especially speaks to me is the first line of verse 16: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” It speaks to me because while my wife and I don’t have our sons’ names inscribed on our hands, we do have their names tattooed on our bodies.
When the adoptions were finalized for each of our sons making them legally our children, my wife Jennifer and I found a tattoo parlor and had their monograms tattooed on our bodies. My wife chose to have one son’s monogram tattooed on the top of each foot. Ouch! I chose to put their monograms on either side of my left wrist.
I wanted the tattoos of my sons’ monograms where I could easily see them wherever I chose. Back before my cell phone became my timepiece, I wore a watch which would cover the tattoos. These were the days before everyone had tattoos, and I felt like a little camouflage was in order, lest the sight of the minister having tattoos cause heart palpitations for the church’s more uptight members. Sometimes the watch wasn’t enough cover, and I did get to watch some prim and proper women (and men!) clutch their pearls in horror. Eventually I stopped wearing a watch, and everybody, even church-going grandmothers, got tattoos, so it’s not nearly the big deal it was once upon a time.
My sons don’t take much notice of the tattoos sported by their parents. After all, they’ve been around as long as my teenage sons can remember. Sometimes, however, I do make a big deal of pointing the tattoos out in order to tell each of them how much I love them and that I carry them around with me all the time. It’s true. I glance down at my tattoos on my wrist and think about all we’ve gone through together, from the struggles of adoption to the struggles of being a teenager.
A psychologist friend of mine says that Jen and I were responding to a need for “embodiment.” We didn’t literally go through the physical process of giving birth to our sons, she says, so we needed a physical tie to them. That makes sense to me, although at the time, we needed a way to ritualize our celebrations of the end of the rigorous adoption processes we faced with each boy. Either way, the tattoos were a way of claiming both beautiful children as our own.
In Isaiah 49:16, it is God who has the name of God’s people tattooed on God’s hands. God cannot forget you or me, but it is as if God goes to the extra trouble to inscribe our names on God’s hands just in case. God claims you and me, and I like to think God checks out the tattoos of each of our names to remember all God has been through with us so far on our journeys. God cherishes even the difficult times simply because God had the joy of being together with each one of us.
Whenever you feel alone, remember God has your name tattooed on God’s hands, and God is looking at it and lovingly thinking about you.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
2/27/2023 08:17:18 pm
I just want to let you know that after reading your article, I have decided that I am going to get a heart with the name Jesus inside tattooed on my right hand, and my sons name who is deceased now, on my left. Thank you for informing me that tattoos are not bad.
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.