Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Although I'm certainly not philosophically opposed to tattoos, never in my thirty years did I feel compelled to get one. I couldn't imagine an image or word or idea I would want on my body forever. I'm also not typically a conservative or especially cautious person . . . But I didn't want something stupid, and I didn't want something modish.
When I studied Greek in seminary (now eight years ago!), there was a word I fell in love with. It's a word that is used commonly in the Gospels to describe a situation in which Jesus feels strongly moved with compassion. It is almost always inadequately translated. You may see it as "moved with pity," "felt compassion," or "felt strongly." But this word, splagchnizomai, is really a much more visceral word than that. (Forgive my lack of diacritical markings.)
Within splagchnizomai, you see the word splagchna, the Koine Greek word for "guts." You can kind of see our word "spleen" in there. It was a word that had to do with your inner organs. Perhaps splagchnizomai could most accurately be translated as "gutted." As in "Jesus felt gutted for the people he saw suffering."
Haven't you ever had that feeling? Just an absolute roiling in your guts when you see the misery or suffering of another person? Something beyond just looking at them and thinking, "How sad"? If you haven't ever had that feeling, I hope that you do at some point. Because it's what we were created to feel for one another.
I have loved this word for long enough that I decided it was time for a tattoo. So, last October, a dear friend and I went to the tattoo parlor of another old friend, and I did the deed. It didn't hurt. It was like something between burning and irritation. I got the word tattooed in Greek, as close to my spleen as I could. (I actually did some anatomical investigating and found that your spleen is closer to your back than to your front.)
I love it. I think I will continue to love it for the rest of my life. I love this daily reminder, when I catch a glimpse of my tattoo in the mirror, that I am called to recognize the ways my heart is breaking and that I am gutted for the world.