At the age of 56 I got my first tattoo. I do not look like a woman who would have a tattoo. I have always tried to look way too “proper” – trying to “do it right” which instead of being life-giving, sucked life from me. Choosing a life focus of “doing it right” just doesn’t bring grace, mercy, beauty, gentleness or love. Something had to change. Actually everything within me began to change.
“The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart. This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes.” – Richard Rohr
It was 80 degrees; I was on horse back, riding with a friend on the Whipple Creek trails that are set within a Northwest forest. So, even though in the sun it was pretty warm in the shade of the trees, it was perfect. A gentle breeze was blowing above our heads in the tops of the fir trees. The sun would break through the canopy of leaves and shine on the carpet of moss and the fir needles. There were so many lovely smells: the scent of the warm toasty fir needles, horse sweat, leather saddles, sun screen and the green of the forest. I kept just trying to breathe deeper to extract all of the summer I could from air. And the sounds: a myriad of birds each singing their unique song, clip clop of hooves on the trail, bugs buzzing by, creaking of the saddles, jingle of the bridles, trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and the creeks we passed rushing along their merry way. And the trees! The huge massive old trees. How old, I wondered. What is your story? But I notice in all this life, there is change and death too. Old trees that have fallen. I felt sadness at their loss. Will their stories ever be told – what they have seen in their hundred years?
I had been taking all this in – pondering the harsh reality of change, loss and death and I looked down at my arm, where on my left forearm is my tattoo. “Behold, I am making all things new.” And it spoke to me a fresh: Making all things new. And I looked back at the old tree lying on its side – a big giant whose story you would think was done. But then I noticed that from the sides of those fallen firs, were ferns and young saplings. The huge root ball – that was now a wall – was covered with new plants growing out of its massive root system. The tree is now colonized by a multitude of specialized insects, beetles, ants and maggots that are doing their part to help the tree to become fresh rich soil and the source of life for the next giant fir.
Life was coming out of death. New things were being made. That is the truth of this world. That is THE truth. Jesus showed us. Death and then transformation. Letting go and surrender is the path to something new. It sounds beautiful and romantic that beauty comes from ashes. But the truth is, I’m not real comfortable with that. I don’t like that death is a part of life; that change and loss are a part of becoming; that things falling apart bring space for renovation and transformation. I’m fighting it – I can feel that I am. Don’t we fight change? Because change means loss and loss means suffering. And I really don’t want to feel pain. So through the years, I tended to keep my heart shut down. If I kept myself from feeling my pain, I surely didn’t want to feel yours. As I have walked through my own experience of “falling apart,” slowly, like bugs eating away at my old self, I began to “see” differently. I began to see that God has created me from dust twice: Once when I was formed in the womb – and then again years later when I consented to my demolition and renovation. The first time, it only took nine months for me to be made new. This second re-creation is taking from mid-life to the end of my life. In our beginnings when we are born – we arrive “unwounded” (innocent) and connected to our Creator. But it doesn’t take long for us to begin to feel separated, isolated and wounded and forget that God’s divine image is within us (we were created in the image of God). And so we each begin to develop a “false self” or “ego” to trust and calculate our way through life. And that can work for us for a bunch of years until life brings mystery – experiences our ego just can’t figure out – loss of income, death of a loved one, cancer, divorce . . . and we are undone. Dust. We then have a choice: to surrender and say, “yes,” to the renovation process, or to close down and become bitter. Paul D’Arcy reminds us “Keep your heart open until, through that tear in your heart, you see something new.”
As I was “decomposing,” my heart and vision began to open up. I began to get a glimpse as some of the fog began to clear and now I don’t just see the suffering, I feel it too. Man, I am ruined! That is certainly not the “new” I planned on! Maybe I want to be blind again, to not notice that everyone is hurting; that devastating change and loss are part of each of us – part of me. And I look down at my tattoo again. I look around at the forest – at the dead old tree. . . . and I am forced by light, to see all the new life growing out of that disintegrating tree. I see how transformation is a part of this world., and how change in its various forms, can usher in beauty, mercy, grace and Love if I consent to my original purpose and intended beauty that God put within me when he made me. When I chose my tattoo, it was hope for heaven, that someday everything would be new and right again. But as the fog clears and my vision improves, my heart swells to embrace the truth that “new” is being made all around me and inside me and all of the time! New life out of death. . . beauty out of ashes. I still hate death. But there is hope that today I will catch a glimpse of something new.