Concerning Baggage and Tattoos

In my last post I was reflecting on the nature of pilgrimages and brought up the question about what is the baggage that I will be carrying with me on the pilgrimage? I also wondered, of that baggage what do I need to leave behind before I go and what can I leave over there?

Part of the nature of pilgrimages is the anticipation that in some way I will be transformed or changed because of this experience. As I mention in the previous post, people often engage in journeys of this type to discern important life decisions, and so we go carrying with us all the emotional and spiritual baggage of our past, present, and future seeking a deeper understanding of ourselves. Then, when we return we are inevitably changed by the experience.

Before I leave, I spent some time thinking about what is present in my mind and heart as I prepare to leave; a sort of mini-inventory. Part of this time of reflection and prayer has also been on what will I be leaving behind before I return. After sitting with these wonderment I began to see what it is that I am indeed carrying in my heart and mind, and that I will come back changed…in more ways than one.


I am keenly aware of some of the baggage that I will be carrying with me on this pilgrimage. As you can see in the photo above, taken after dinner as the sun sets over the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, my son is almost 9 months old and this trip will be the first time that I will be away from him for this long a period of time. I will certainly feel the absence of my wife, but over the course of our relationship we have spent some time apart; our record was 66 days apart in summer of 2012 when I was the residential summer camp chaplain for the summer camp of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon. So I think that my mind and heart are prepared for our time apart. However, I am not sure if I am ready to be away from my son for that long. Of course with global connectivity at our fingertips I am a text, phone call, or FaceTime away from seeing my family, but as reassuring as that is and will be, I still feel the pull on my heart. It hurts in a way that is different from what I have felt before. The gnawing anxiety of the infinite “what ifs?”

So I will be carrying that with me as I say goodbye to them in Boise in the early hours on Wednesday. Though that will be weighing on me, I am offering that up to God, trusting that, as the mystic Julian of Norwich said, all will be well, so that I can be present to how God may be speaking to me through this experience. I am sure that there is more that I will notice within myself as I walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

On my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1999 I was 17 years old and as part of our preparation for the trip we were told that this was going to be a fantastic journey that would change us forever. I was excited about just how I might be changed. I was 17 years old and quite literally expecting some sort of divine revelation. Throughout that trip I was waiting for the heavens to open up and hear God’s voice calling out to me. Needless to say, I came back very disappointed. Everyone asked how the trip was and what was my favorite part, but I was unable to pinpoint any physical or spiritual change. It wasn’t until a few months later when I was sitting in the pew of my childhood church that I realized how I had been impacted by the pilgrimage. On what was just another Sunday morning, I sat in the congregation killing time because I wasn’t serving in the liturgy, when I heard the gospel story for the week which was Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi.

I had been there!!! The details of the story that were not included in the scripture stood out in my imagination. As I heard the story, I closed my eyes, and I was there again; sitting alongside the disciples as they talked with Jesus. One of the ways in which I changed because of that first pilgrimage is the way in which I hear and engage with scripture. I know that I will be changed from this experience, especially because as part of this pilgrimage I am making a “side-pilgrimage,” if you will, to a tattoo artist whose family has been tattooing pilgrims to the Holy Land for over 700 years!

Tattooing is an art the Razzouk family introduced to Palestine centuries ago. Bringing it with them from Egypt when my great-grandfather moved here for trade, this art has been in the family for 700 hundred years starting in Egypt. – from

Razzouk Tattoo
Razzouk Tattoo – Jerusalem

I currently have four tattoos and I will write a book one day about them; what they mean and why I chose them. But as soon as I found out about this place I have felt drawn to visit and get a tattoo. It is a mini-pilgrimage because I will be joining the thousands of pilgrims who have made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land and marked their journey by visiting the Razzouk family. My design will come from one of the stencils that they have used for centuries, like the one below. I will be changed because, well, I will have a new tattoo. And as with all my tattoos there is deep spiritual meaning behind my choices that reflects major experiences in my life.

Saint George Tattoo Design
The stencil of Saint George and the Dragon – from the Razzouk Tattoo Facebook page

I will document this “mini-pilgrimage” and will post about it afterwards. So stay tuned for more!

For more info about Razzouk Tattoo you can visit their website here or see this CNN article.

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