Tattoo or not Tattoo?

Time to come clean: I have a tattoo. I’ve decided it’s time to be open about what it means and what it means to me.

(A lot of people will see it this coming weekend and I know I’ll get asked a lot! So if you’re going to tell one person what it means you may as well tell everyone)

It’s between my shoulder blades and this is what it looks like.

Word in Hebrew

You’re right – I didn’t choose for its looks!

I chose it for what it means and what it means to me.

I think of it as my label which is why it’s sort of in the place where you’d find a clothes label. It is God’s name for ME! It’s what he calls me. And because so often I forget what God calls me and because, for many years, I struggled to believe that he really did call me that – I decided to have it tattooed on my back three years ago the year I was ordained priest. Conveniently this was also the year I turned 50 and my lovely husband actually suggested buying me a tattoo for my birthday BEFORE I’d even said anything about what I’d been thinking about privately for a year or two! (He knows me so well).

Amazingly, it is a word that works on many levels. It occurs throughout the Bible but especially in the Song of Solomon. It was first given to me in Deuteronomy 33:12 which I’ve come to think of as the ‘Benjamin Blessing’. Benjamin was the youngest child, I am a youngest child.  That God would bless the youngest child so tenderly moved me immensely as over many years I’ve struggled with mixed feelings about being the youngest – (long story that one… another time maybe…)  Anyway this is the blessing:

‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders’  

The word ‘beloved’ and the phrase ‘the one the Lord loves’ is the same Hebrew word in the original text and it’s the word above. It means ‘Beloved’.

Wonderfully, it also means ‘David’ or rather ‘Yahdid’ in Hebrew  – did you know ‘David’ means ‘Beloved’? It’s a nice extra layer of meaning for me as my beloved man is a David.

So there you go: it’s God’s name for me and it’s the name of my  life partner who committed himself to me on September 1st thirty-one years ago and hasn’t once flinched from all the complications that loving me has brought into his life.

But this morning, 48 hours away from our lovely Emma marrying the equally lovely Ben, God talked to me about my name again. This was inconvenient especially as he asked me to write about it but not that surprising as I’m aware a lot of people will see my tattoo this weekend and be curious. Anyway, God revealed two new layers of meaning to me, how could I have not spotted these before?!

The word ‘Beloved’ can also be read ‘Be Loved’. And what greater thing can we desire for our children than they also ‘Be Loved’?

So Emma and Ben, this blog post (which was certainly not on my ‘to do’ list today!) is dedicated to you. Probably you won’t get time to read it till your honeymoon but that’s okay. Our prayer for you both is that you will always ‘Be Loved’ and always know that you ARE loved not just by your family and friends who are gathering to celebrate you but by God who created you and gifts you with His Love and his Blessing on your marriage.

P.S. The 2nd surprising layer of meaning was the connection to the ‘Benjamin Blessing’ verse – from Saturday I will have a son in love (and law) called Ben 🙂

P.P. S If you don’t want your kids to get a tattoo, beat them to it and get one first! Emma was appalled and Matt was shocked three years ago when I first told them, but I think/hope they are ‘cool’ with it now.




Bob (the dog) does theology… again! (the meaning of communion)

'I'm telling you - my view on Wittgenstein is highly respected!'

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but  Bobby has  (yet again) helped me solve a theological conundrum. I’ve been thinking about how we know stuff (see previous post Thinking without words) and what  I’ve been wondering about is a phrase from Tom Wright. He says ‘love is a way of knowing’?  (Tom Wright Suprised by Hope  ‘Love is the deepest mode of knowing’ pg 85) So  is this just a nice sounding phrase or does it actually mean anything?

So here’s where Bobby came in: one morning while we were on holiday I decided to go for a run. Bobby watched all the usual ‘going out’ preparations: running shoes, jacket, ipod, all the while eagerly hoping he was coming too.

Sadly, ‘You’re staying’,  is a phrase he knows only too well. His ears droop and if he’s at home he will actually crawl on to the empty bottom shelf of the bookcase where he used to hide as a puppy.  On this occasion he merely looked at me miserably as if to say ‘how could you leave me’ and off I went.

I only know what happened next because David was there to observe. Bobby trotted over to the pair of slippers I had abandoned at the front door and collected one in his mouth. He then retreated with it to his bed, not to enact revenge by eating it but simply to curl around it, feel comforted and fall asleep.

I don’t think I could give a better example of love being a way of knowing!

Bobby ‘knows’ that I love him and he ‘knows’ that he loves me. He didn’t understand why I should leave him sad and disappointed. But he ‘knows’ that my fragrant slipper is somehow a reassuring token of my presence. He also ‘knows’ that where a slipper is, a mummy will at some point reappear.

All of this ‘knowing’ is not really about knowing at all – it’s all about loving and being loved and feeling safe in that love.

‘Pastor’ Bob falls asleep during one of his own sermons

I hope it’s not too flippant a connection but this story speaks to me rather profoundly about the meaning of bread and wine in communion. They are given to help me remember, they are given to comfort me in my Master’s absence, they are given to remind me that he will return.

‘Take, eat’ is such a simple commandment, it could almost be classed as a ‘no-brainer’. Quite literally so, the simple concrete act of taking communion bypasses my brain and reaches my heart without the need for words. It is perhaps the supreme example of love being a way of knowing.

 We complicate our understanding of the sacrament when we worry over whether Christ is actually present or only symbolically present.  Personally speaking being symbolically present doesn’t quite do it for me. Something real is happening that is not simply a memorial even though I would not go quite as far as my Catholic brothers and sisters.

This story of Bobby and my slipper helps me express my understanding of what is going on. Am I actually present in my slipper? Well obviously, no I’m not. But in fact I am. Especially if you’ve got a nose like Bobby’s. Of course I am present – pheromonally speaking.  But the fact of my presence or non-presence is not the point.  The point is that the comfort is real. Bobby is genuinely reassured by this token, genuinely reminded that I will return.

 Anyone who has ever trained a dog knows that single word commands are the best (‘Sit’/’Stay’ or ‘Pray’ in my case with Bobby). But I think single word summaries have a lot to recommend them. There is a film just out on DVD with the brilliant title ‘Eat. Pray. Love’. The book is good, I read it and reviewed it here about a year ago but it’s just the title that’s been in my mind. As a summary of the Christian Life, I think ‘Eat, Pray, Love’  just about covers it, what do you think Bobs?


'I'd just like to remind you which of us is supposed to wear the dog collar'


Twilight tells the story of  clumsy, awkward 17 year old, Bella, who falls passionately in love with a gorgeous young man, Edward, who just happens to be a vampire. It is a hugely successful series of novels and film, with millions of fans, grossing millions of dollars.

 I’ve been wondering about its appeal. Fans of the series are often obsessed, reading the books over and over.  Some Christians think the book is dangerous with its occult undertones, others think it’s highly moral, preaching a ‘no sex before marriage’ message. My view is that it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a story but it’s a very compelling story so I’ve been asking myself what is it that makes it so compelling?  What does its huge success tell us about  the generation of women and girls who have embraced it?  A friend of mine suggested that it works because it fulfills a ‘deep longing’.

 A deep longing for what? A longing to be loved, to be known, cared for, intimately understood, accepted, adored and desired.  We all have or have had a longing for someone to love us in such a way: someone who would be amazingly strong, totally obsessed with our welfare and completely attentive to our every need. Those with a heightened awareness of this longing are far more likely to ‘get’ this film, than those who either have satisfying personal relationships or have settled for an easier substitute (shopping? eating?).

 But is this longing unreasonable? Is it just a teenage fantasy we all once held but now we are ‘grown ups’ we have adjusted to the fact that life isn’t like that.  Actually I think it is a reasonable longing and it is one many of us have either forgotten or buried it  beneath disappointment or replaced it with more easily achieved goals.

 Stephanie Mayer, the author of Twilight, and I agree about one thing: no other human being can ever fulfill this kind of longing. Only a supernatural being is capable of delivering our deepest desires. For Stephanie, the supernatural being in question is a vampire.

 Edward is incredibly strong and powerful as well as stunningly gorgeous to look at. His relationship with Bella begins with the act of saving her from being crushed by a truck. He literally races to her side, putting himself between her and the oncoming vehicle.

From his many other appealing qualities, she adores the fact that he can lift her like a feather and carry her effortlessly. Oh how deeply that fantasy appeals to women conflicted over their weight!  He throws her over his shoulder and carries her to places she could never have reached without a great deal of stumbling and effort.  He is obsessed with keeping her safe, he is protective and vigilant. For several months without her knowledge he keeps watch over her while she sleeps. In short he adores her and one of the tensions running through the books is the tantalizing possibility that one day he might transform Bella into a beautiful, graceful, eternal being like himself. Laying aside ice-cold skin and a proclivity for eating flesh, he is in all respects the lover we all desire.

To be loved so utterly and completely – is that unreasonable? Unattainable? I don’t think  so. I believe we were created by a God who left within us a knowledge that we were meant to be loved in this way. That’s why we long for it. It’s not unreasonable but it does feel unattainable.

 Maybe that is because we have forgotten that the God who made us is also obsessed with us. It was Catherine of Sienna who called God a ‘Divine Madman’ ‘drunk with love, crazy with love’. He has not left us alone in the world but came in human form to throw himself in between me and all the forces of death, hell and destruction that threatened me. He is strong, he is powerful. He watches over me by day and by night ‘he neither slumbers nor sleeps, he will not let my foot slip, he is my shade (Psalm 121), he watches over me while I sleep (Psalm 139).  He has immense strength and supernatural power which is always for me and never against me (Romans 8). He also promises that one day he will transform me into an eternal being of grace and beauty.

 We shy away from linking our romantic longings to God. Perhaps we are afraid of trivialising God or appearing too sentimental and matey in an undignified ‘Jesus is my home boy’ kind of way. But God does not shy away from using the language of romance and intimacy with us. He describes himself as ‘the bridegroom’ and we are his bride. He invites us to ‘remain in his love’. The idea of sexual union is actually used as the highest metaphor for the way that God loves us. ‘Husbands should love their wives… as Christ does the church’ a ‘profound mystery’ says Paul (Ephesians 5). Whatever that means, it clearly indicates that what God expects from this relationship is a level of intimacy we find hard to conceive.

I was made to be loved. I don’t have to settle for anything less than being loved completely by God.  Impossibly beautiful but completely fictional vampires are not the answer to my deepest longings. There is a supernatural being who is real and much closer to us than we realise. He waits for me to turn, to recognise his presence and to open my heart to his love.

 There is a moment in the book when Bella wakes up with a kind of creed on her lips.

About three things I was absolutely positive. First Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be, that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him’.

 My version of Bella’s creed is thus: About three things I am absolutely positive. First Jesus is God himself. Second that there is no part of him that he held back when he poured out his life blood on my behalf. And third he is unconditionally, irrevocably and unreservedly in love with me.