The A-U-A Tattoo

Three rare things happened to me this weekend:
1) I left a workshop with an easy-to-recall, useful takeaway concept.
2) The words “get a tattoo” were uttered at my mother-in-law’s Catholic church.
3) Number One and Number Two are related.
My mother-in-law, Barb, who is very active in her church, had invited my sister-in-law, my niece, and me to participate in the “Discernment of Spirits” women’s retreat being held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. I have been in the family for a long time, so I have participated in my share of activities at Blessed Sacrament (I am not Roman Catholic). Never have I heard “get a tattoo” before (although I have had some useful “takeaway concepts.”)
The theme for this retreat was “discernment of spirits.” Based largely on the work of Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V., our leader, Fr. Tim Holeda, took us on a zero-to-sixty study of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. I believe there were about six hours worth of teachings crammed into one. What stood out, though, were the three guiding principles Fr. Holeda gave before pressing the learning accelerator. He advised us that if we did nothing else, each of us should do these three things when considering “different movements which are caused in the soul, the good — to receive them, and the bad — to reject them.”
1) Be Aware
2) Understand
3) Take Action
Those three actions are what he told us to “tattoo” on ourselves. Although he repeatedly joked that he didn’t literally mean for us to get tattoos, every time the word “tattoo” came up, the three-part approach was reinforced in my mind.
And, honestly, when I really thought about the process of getting a tattoo (not that I know from personal experience), it made perfect sense to me to use “tattoos” as a metaphor.
For one thing, most people I know who have gotten tattoos have thought long and hard about what image they want representing them. Especially if they are only going to get one tattoo ever, it’s a big decision. It requires awareness of who the person is at the moment, and some awareness of what the individual foresees in their future. Getting a tattoo also requires an understanding of what the image will convey to those who see it, and the physical effects on the recipient. Lastly, taking action is probably, for the person receiving the tattoo, a mixture of anxiety at taking the risk and enduring the pain, and satisfaction at seeing a decision-making process come to closure.
I couldn’t get this image out of my mind, so I did a little poking around.  It turns out that Christian tattoos are not all that rare.  Having done a little research, I found sites like This site, in addition to containing a gallery of religious tattoos, also explores the relationship between tattoos and theology. I started playing around with a “Holy Spirit Tattoo.”  Here is the original:
And with a little bit of editing magic, I came up with the tattoo we might have ended up with yesterday had we all really gone that route:
I deleted the Bible verse from the original and added a simple “a-u-a.” The first “a” for awareness, the “u” for understanding, and the second “a” for action.
I don’t think any of our local tattoo parlors are going to be flooded with the good ladies of Blessed Sacrament and other local Catholic churches, seeking “a-u-a” tattoos. But the longer I look at it, the more I think, “that actually could make a nice suncatcher”! 
The blessing of the workshop is that it’s easy to remember “a-u-a” even if I don’t have a physical reminder.
(Thank you to Father Tim and the Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild who produced this retreat.)