Wednesday, October 3, 2007

God's Work of Art

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in a most wonderful event in the city where I live. Wyandotte’s Crafter’s Alley is an event sponsored by the Wyandotte Business Association and runs at the same time as the Wyandotte Art Fair. Although this event took place in July, I thought I’d share my experience as well as some photos here.

Artists and crafters lined the streets at Wyandotte’s Art Fair and Crafter’s Alley. The finest works of art I experienced during the festivities weren’t sold by any artist, crafter or vendor. The finest form of art I experienced was in the form of body art: tattoos.

Personally, I’ve never given tattoos much thought, however, I must say that it is an art form I admire. I am a musician and while I have never particularly cared for opera I appreciate and respect all of the preparation and talent needed to sing opera, to compose opera. In much the same fashion, I appreciate and respect the art and talent in every tattoo.

Words have power. If a mother yells at her six-year-old daughter, “you’re stupid. You’re ugly,” those words are not uttered without effect. Those words carry impact. But what if words are part of body art?

I met a young man at the event with a very elaborate and ornate tattoo. Amidst the designs of his tattoo was the word, “hate.” Another young person had the words, “infernal confusion” on her arm. I wonder how seeing those words every day effects these young people. I wonder how it is that they came to choose these particular words for their tattoos. The irony is that these young people were browsing the rosaries I made.

I have always had a great love for popular religiosity, those faith expressions that are born at the grass roots experience, born from the living experience of the populace. Quite often, these expressions of faith aren’t recognized by the church or are even shunned by the church. The tattoo has certainly not been widely accepted as the only “mark” or “seal” is the one given at baptism.
Personally, I have seen that popular religiousity finds expression in many forms. Popular faith truly finds expression in art.

I also had the opportunity to meet a young man who shared the story of how his father had a great devotion to Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos. As he embraced his young child he told the story of how his father had hopes of one day traveling to San Juan de Los Lagos to “pagar una manda.” In Mexican faith expression, a “manda” is where the faithful publicly thank God, Our Lady and the Saints for prayers answered. Pilgrims travel many miles, often doing the last stretch on their knees as they approach a specific sanctuary. Sadly, this young man’s father died before he could fulfil his “manda.”

He further explained that he was going to do what his father didn’t get a chance to do: publicly make a “manda” at Our Lady’s shrine. He said that he, too, had a great love and devotion to Our Lady. The procession to Our Lady’s Shrine that this young man will make in his deceased father’s honor will begin at Detroit Metro Airport. More specifically, the procession has already begun in his heart.

He then told me had Her tattooed on his back. Although the tattoo was still a work in progress, he permitted me not only to see it but also to take a photo. I never would have thought that a tattoo could be used for evangelization, but this young man taught me a lot that day. Now that was, without a doubt, the most affective and effective piece of art I witnessed during this particular event. In fact, that art witnessed to me!

A young lady who browsed and then purchased a rosary wore the fourth tattoo that caught my attention. Perhaps the rosary she wore as body art on her wrist and the back of her hand expressed her devotion to Our Lady much more than the rosary she purchased from me. This young person was also gracious enough to permit me to photograph her tattoo. Have you ever thought about how often you use your hands, about how you use your hands? Every time she pays a cashier, every time she shakes someone’s hand, every time she waives she has a prominent tool for evangelization available. Every time she uses her hand she gives witness.

My time at Wyandotte’s Art Fair and Crafter’s Alley was truly blest by those who not only had art on their bodies, but art in their heart. I’d like to thank these young people for what they brought to me. You, my friends, are God’s work of art.

Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, Pray for us.

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