• Tattoos, Altars, and the Journey

    At my meeting we use a children's program called Godly Play to invite our children to explore their spirituality with one another. One of my favorite stories is called The Great Family which is the story of Abraham and Sarah, as they follow God's leading to leave their home and travel to a new place. The Godly Play story uses sand, and wooden figures that march the journey of Abraham and Sarah. As they walk their footprints are left in the sand. Throughout their journey they mark the places in which they've experienced God with altars. In the Godly Play story small pebbles are used to mark those places in the sand. 

    I am continually struck by this story...the trail left behind Abraham and Sarah, and the altars marking the spots that God showed up for them. I wanted to adapt this story for adolescents, and to create an opportunity for them to talk about their own journey. 

    Over the last couple years I've developed this lesson for use with adolescents, and it has become one of my favorite youth group activities. I hand each of the teens a piece of paper, and ask them to chart their life journey, starting at birth. As they march through their life in their mind I ask them to put an X in a spot that feels significant for them. I encourage them to write a little note to help them remember what that X was for. Once they reach present day I ask them to put their papers on the floor and mark each X with a shell or small stone. After everyone is done we go around the circle and share our journey with one another. After each of them speak I ask them if they can think of a way in which God was present in any of the altars on their paper. 

    The responses are incredible, mainly because revelation seems to be immediate. You get to see the connection happen. As they reflect on how their lives have changed, on how they were comforted, on ways they've learned, and how maybe, just maybe, all those things have God's fingerprints on them. 

    At first I was thinking, this activity is perfect for adolescents specifically. They haven't been on this earth long, and this activity allows them to see ways in which God was present in their lives already. I have realized that this activity isn't great for adolescents only. This activity is perfect for many of us, regardless of age. 

    If you are anything like me, I often have a hard time seeing the ways God has worked in my life until months or years down the road. It is looking back that I see how things changed for me, how a leading to make a big decision came from somewhere outside of my own worries and fears. My story is one of returning to those places and marking them after the fact. 

    I've marked my journey permanently on my skin. My tattoos are my altars. On my left arm is my biggest tattoo, of a mother holding a baby. Obviously marking the moment in which I became a father, but also marking a time in my life when God broke out of the masculine box I put her in. I embraced God the Mother...the nurturer. On my left wrist are the words "love your enemies" in Greek. Marking a shift in my understanding of God while at Eastern University. A shift that pointed me to the radical way of following Jesus. On my right wrist is the line, "teach us and show us the way." This marks a time in which God called me into a deeper understanding of care for the earth, and acknowledging a consistent reminder that there is wisdom to be found everywhere and in everything. On my left upper arm is a minimalist pacific northwest landscape. This marks the wordless place. A time at the Oregon Extension in 2006 when I was completely transformed. I don't know how to describe what happened, but I have never been the same. 

    Now you know a piece of my story. You know how I've marked my journey. How have you marked yours? How are you acknowledging God's presence in your life?