Three-in-one: Marriage, Community, and Pain

triquetra for blog

My wife and I celebrated our one year anniversary about a week ago. I started brainstorming ways we could commemorate a month before, mostly in the form of trips. Like Walter Mitty I had an itch for adventure, I think I always have, and it felt like time to visit a historic city or chase thrills at an amusement park. Then again, I would have been just as happy to find some peace in nature on a backpacking trip, similar to the way we chose to celebrate our honeymoon. But my wife had a very different idea: she wanted to commemorate our anniversary symbolically. How could I say no to that?

I grew up in a bit of an iconoclastic culture: the Eucharist was simply an exercise of memory, girls were instructed in modesty to keep boys from being the victims of lust, and tattoos were pretty suspect due to a few Old Testament verses. As I grew, however, my artistic nature began to challenge some of these ideas and my imagination became filled with symbolism, myths, and philosophies. Christianity, while not the most symbolic of all religions, does have a rich history of symbolism that I have been enlivened to discover. So when my wife suggested that we celebrate our anniversary by getting our wedding date tattooed, I listened. And then I started to think bigger.

A year ago, just before our marriage, I wrote a post on this blog called The Mysteries of Marriage. There, I dug into a theology of marriage as part of triune, perichoretic love that I still very much hold to. I decided that if I was going to get a tattoo, it needed to be more than just a memory: it needed to be a symbol. And that’s when I rediscovered the Triquetra.

An ancient Celtic symbol, the Triquetra has been a part of many religions and paganisms but has for centuries been a symbol of the Trinity within Christianity. Memorizing this symbol, I have been encouraged to find it emblazoned on the pulpit at my church and I’ve run into it elsewhere too. Looking at this symbol, pictured above in my design, it’s pretty obvious why it would be connected to the Trinity. Commonly known as the Celtic knot, the Triquetra is truly a visual representation of the “three-in-one.” For me, wearing this symbol daily is a reminder of the spiritual dimension of my marriage. As our pastor said during the marriage ceremony, marriage is not about two people facing each other as much as it is two people facing outward but standing side by side. That point has stuck with me.

It’s going to be hard to explain my tattoo to others because it’s wrapped up in a handful of big ideas. Fortunately, symbols are concrete signs of exactly such big ideas and the Triquetra itself is a portrait of multi-dimensionality. On one level, my tattoo is a witness to my marriage, signified most clearly by our wedding date in roman numerals. Marriage is a permanent commitment, something that simultaneously unsettles and comforts me. Call me emo (no seriously, I won’t mind) but I found the process of getting tattooed symbolic of my first year of marriage: periods of pain, periods of relief, and overall an increasing sense of beauty and achievement. A tattoo is a witness to struggle and marriage has been that for me, despite being the most worthwhile struggle of my life.

On another level, my tattoo speaks to the way in which my marriage is wrapped up in a wider community. Each concrete branch of the Triquetra is wrapped up in another and it is in this way that my wife and I are part of families, friend-groups, and ultimately Church. A goal I identified at the beginning of our marriage was to allow our support of each other to provide a platform for hospitality and community involvement. I still feel I have only taken a couple steps in that direction and I look forward to better meeting that challenge as a couple in the years to come. Now, I get to be reminded of that goal every day.

Finally, my tattoo speaks to the way in which all of these relationships are surrounded by the circle of God’s love and the way in which our intersections loves on earth mirror God’s dance of love in the Trinity. This is a great mystery, but what better way to speak of it than through a symbol? Through prayer and acts of service, I hope that my wife and I can be increasingly conscious of the Spirit’s presence within us in order to be stronger conduits of God’s grace. This is a huge goal, but perhaps it starts with kindnesses, sacrifices, and concern for one another. In that way, our marriage becomes a crucible for our sanctification and our love is made concrete first in order that it can overflow abundantly. This is the vision I see when I look at my tattoo. This is the prayer that I have for my marriage and the one I will bear witness to in my flesh, in my very person.

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