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On Tuesday I will be meeting with a woman who will most likely be inking my last tattoo.

I’ve been pondering the design for another tattoo for a couple of years now. My first tattoo was designed by me with a few alterations and clean ups from my graphic designer sister-in-law. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I prayed about getting that first tattoo for more than 10 years. For me it was never a question of how God might feel about the marking of my body but rather how I might feel about it when I’m old and gray. Would I still want to catch a glimpse of a grinning Popeye and his can of spinach when I’m 90? Not so much. I waited that long because I could not settle on an image I’d like to be paired with for the rest of my life. Thankfully, the tattoo does not include Popeye or a can of spinach. It is a celtic cross on my lower back.

When I began my journey into Orthodoxy I asked my priest, Father G, about tattoos. For the most part, he said, the Orthodox church frowns upon tattooing. When I pressed him about it, specifically, “will I be rejected if I have a tattoo?” He said that would not keep me from becoming Orthodox, that it would not be something that would bar my entrance into the faith. He said that his concern would be the degree to which one might take tattooing. He said that he had known people who, once they started, could not stop.

I knew at that time that I had hoped to get one more tattoo, this one in a more visible place but I was not sure yet what it would be. I asked him how it would look if I became chrismated and then got a tattoo. He made a face then offered up his characteristic priestly shrug. “It would be something I think we should talk about at that time. You may feel differently about it when you’re Orthodox.”

For the last year and a half I’ve been carrying his words around with me. It’s not a weighted thing, like a backpack full of rocks. It’s more like a pebble in my shoe. It’s there and I feel it as I walk. It’s not painful but the thought is annoying because I suspect he’s right.

I have met Orthodox people who have tattoos. I know a couple of Orthodox people who got the tattoos after their conversion to the faith. When I question them about this they have their reasonings, their texts, their well thought out explanations about how it fits with their Orthodox tradition. Their choice was considered and thoughtful.

So it’s an option to wait, I suppose. I could wait and do as Father G suggests, see how things look from the other side of the aisle but I know myself too well. I know I will want to do this well and that I will feel I am prone to fail. I know that I will want to follow the guidelines set forth by the church even as I challenge each and every one, testing them for their merit, weighing my own heart against each one.

And then I think about regret.

It’s possible I may regret getting the tattoo later but then again, I may regret not getting it before I became chrismated. It’s not the regret I fear in the long run, it’s the possibility of resentment. I don’t want to walk into Orthodoxy with a hidden agenda. I don’t want to enter in with “how will I circumvent THIS guideline?” I want to come in free of that baggage, ready to engage, tattoos and all.

And so I will move ahead with the meeting for the design, a variation on the celtic Tree of Life, the tree that represents restoration to me, Christ present in the garden of Eden, life everlasting. And then I will submit myself to prayer on this and wait to see what comes to me. In the end I know it is always my choice and the possibility of regret will always be a specter lying in wait on the road before me. I cannot anticipate regret or resentment and I know that I don’t want to make decisions based upon how I might feel later. I can only be here, now. Prayerful in the struggle.

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©2021 by Angela Doll Carlson