A correspondent writes:
I wanted to tell you about something I spotted on the bus recently. I noticed
that a woman sitting in front of me had a wordy tattoo on the back of her left
upper arm. After idly staring at it for a while I focused on what it said, and
– you’ll have guessed – there was, “Lord, make me an instrument…” I don’t
think her arm accommodated the whole prayer; the last word I could make out,
down around her elbow, was “joy.”
I wonder if the rest of it was on her forearm, or her other arm.
In any case, this got me wondering about St. Francis tattoos. It turns out there are quite a lot of them. Those that are pictures of Francis often seem to use blended imagery: the stigmata, or a crucifix, alongside birds and animals. As I note in the book, those symbols rarely appeared together until quite recently.
But there are a lot of “wordy” tattoos as well. In 2012, the evangelical online journal Christian Post reported on British actor Russell Brand’s tattoo of the prayer. For him it was a sign of recovery from drug abuse; the article notes that the prayer appears in the Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (see my book on this, too). It’s interesting that Brand’s tattoo uses the wording “Make me a channel of thy peace,” rather than the more common “instrument.” “Channel” was popularized through song lyrics, a 1967 setting by Sebastian Temple. Since it was performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, its popularity has taken off. (On the other hand, Temple used the modern “your,” not “thy.” More blending.)
Someone’s Pinterest board shows several terrific images of this tattoo. There’s one that covers a person’s back, another with “Make me a channel” (sic) on a forearm, and a very elaborate image that first turned up on Buzzfeed. It’s everywhere.
One source actually calls this tattoo the “prayer of St. Francis recovery tattoo,” suggesting a strong association with the recovery movement. But a Facebook member involved in animal rescue wants one, too.
Tell me what you see.