A Reminder that God Is Always Near - The Pueblo Chieftain
Published: November 6, 2015; Last modified: November 6, 2015 11:30PM
I got my first tattoo on Oct. 19 — Hebrew characters for the word “hesed.”
It was a celebration of sorts.
You see, since 2011, I’ve been making regular trips to Tulsa, Okla., to attend classes at Phillips Theological Seminary as a part of their masters in divinity program. Assuming no major interruptions, I’ll be graduating in May 2016. The trip that took me to Tulsa last month was the seventh time I’ve been, and aside from the trip to graduate, I have one more journey to make.
And so I thought I’d commemorate my final two trips somehow. And I decided that on each trip, I’d get a tattoo. Two arms, two tattoos. I wanted each piece of art to be emblematic of my theological journey, but I also knew that it would need to be something that would remain true, even if my life circumstances changed.
I mean, in my teens I was a fan of Andy Gibb, and I can tell you that, as much as I loved the younger Gibb, I’d be loathe to have “Shadow Dancing” scrawled across my back today.
I didn’t take the conventional route to seminary and the pulpit. I don’t have a long experience participating in church youth groups or camps in high school; I didn’t attend a bible college after graduation; and I don’t have an undergrad in any topic that would be considered theological. I have always believed in God, though, but after a short stint of what I would call a “Jesus phase,” in my early 20s, I left the church — and didn’t return for more than 20 years.
Even though I don’t have long experience with organized religion, I do have long experience with God. I spent most of my life identifying as what some disparage as “spiritual but not religious.” God has always been a constant in my life even if I didn’t go to a building we call “church” to experience the divine.
And so when I was introduced to the word “hesed” in my first Hebrew Bible class, I fell in love. The word exactly described my experience with God on my long and circuitous journey. See, hesed has a wide range of meanings, and there isn’t really an appropriate English translation. Between people, hesed is a mutual covenant, a relationship or friendship in which one person might be responsible for the welfare and comfort of someone else. It is used to describe the relationship between David and Johnathan (1 Samuel 20:8), Rahab and the spies (Joshua 2:12, 14), Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:23).
Between God and God’s people it goes a little bit further. It could be translated as steadfastness or loving-kindness and it is the overriding characteristic that the Hebrew people believed was descriptive of God to God’s people. It might be translated as loyalty or love that goes beyond the expected and attaches no requirement. Hesed is a feeling, an action, a covenant, a commitment. Hesed is an action word.
Hesed reminds me that God is loyal, faithful, trustworthy, steadfast. There have been times where I have not always felt the presence of God in the deep, soul-touching, spiritual experience that one might think of when one thinks about being “connected to God.”
But as I look over my life, I realize that God has always been loyal, always steadfast, always comforting. Perhaps God was the friend who sat with me while I complained about the world, or the dinner companion who let me bare my soul, or the person who gave me a chance to be generous and less self-centered.
I have no doubt that God has been loyal to God’s covenant with me. All I need to do is look at my left arm to be reminded that God’s arm is always near.