It’s the other day and we laugh about it, Jon and myself, because we had just been fishing at the bayfront and this is what got us on the topic of tattoos. Jon wants a tattoo of a fish.
Of course getting a tattoo isn’t what it used to be. Even people of my own set are doing it and after losing a couple of wedding bands over the years, I’ve even toyed with the idea of getting a ring tattoo so people know my heart is captured, that it actually was captured long ago.
But it’s funny because Jon is just 9, and so we laughed at the prospect of one day when he’s older and what would happen if he walks through the door and rolls up his pant leg to show his mother – he wants this tattoo on his calf muscle.
There are all sorts of symbolic meanings relating to fish and fishing for a Christian – I’ve written about one here, that fish breakfast on the beach – but perhaps there is no better known fish symbol than the ichthys, that is the fish you sometimes see on, say, car bumpers.
The Greek letters sometimes shown inside are an acrostic for “Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter,” which translated is “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” This is what makes this a hugely significant fish for anyone of any age really, and this is the tattoo that Jon wants.
The further history of the ichthys is explained here, so, yes, there are certainly worse things that your boy can dream of tattooing on his leg and worse things to laugh about.
Then yesterday there was more laughter, this time while I listened to the ancient Scripture – on the i-pad is how I do this now, while going for a walk or doing the dishes and doing whatever – to the bizarre story of old Abraham and Sarah giving birth to a child that had been promised many years earlier, so long earlier that you could forgive them for having forgotten about it.
The old man and woman were so worn and wrinkled and ready for pasture — we’re told she was 90 – that you could forgive forgetful Sarah also for what she did when she was told about the child, that is she laughed.
She immediately denied that she laughed about anything – you can imagine why – but God did and didn’t seem to mind all that much because then he told her and her old man to go ahead and name the child “Laughter.”
Yes, this is the name of the boy that we know as “Isaac,” one of the great patriarchs of the Jews, a historic figure, if we acknowledge it or not, who is profoundly tied to the west’s cultural heritage.
Finally it was just this morning when I listened to this brief story from my writing hero, Fredrick Buechner, someone who I have come to know as a dear friend and mentor.
Buechner did not come from any sort of religious background – neither has parents nor his grandparents professed in any faith – but he found certain whispers in his life calling him.
He recalls once how a da Vinci print of the head of the Christ at The Last Supper, tilted in just a certain way, so sad and poignant and telling, was one such gentle voice.
In terms of his final decision to follow Christ, though, it was in the 50s, the year Elizabeth was crowned queen, and Buechner was a young man in New York. He lived beside a church and, as he puts it, had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, so would visit.
And one fated day the message was on how and why Christ is crowned in the hearts of believers.
As Buechner describes it, when this crowning happens there is such a recognition and thankfulness and joy that there is an overwhelming sense of release, one that can bring tears, for sure, and confession and then, yes, a certain and real laughter too.
Laughter at the strangeness of it all, of the realization that, “You mean, it’s possible, that all this might be true?”
And what if it is?