Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.

Like as the hart. . .

Like as the hart. . .

On a clear day in June, 2008, on a highway between the Sea of Galilee and the city of Nazareth the driver of the bus carrying the small group I was with slowed and told us to look left up the hill to see a Gazella gazelle, a Palestinian Gazelle. I saw a tan streak of motion a bit darker than the dry hillside and a couple of tiny patches of white. The Palestinian Gazelle disappeared up the hill faster than I could look.

Our driver said we were lucky—hardly anyone sees Palestinian Gazelles because they are a declining and endangered species. Since that day I have been fascinated by the Palestinian gazelle.

I’m also fascinated by the romanticizing of the demographics of The Galilee. Nazareth is west of the Sea of Galilee. About 150,000 people (mostly Arabs) live there. It’s not simply the mythical place where Jesus walked. Nazareth is a metropolitan area that was ceded to Israel in 1948 even though the population was over 60% Arab—60% of those people Muslim and 40% Christian.

Across the Sea to the east is the Golan Heights, until 1967 a part of Syria. While we are horrified at ISIS taking swaths of Syria in the name of religion, we accept uncritically Israel’s 1967 annexation of the Golan Heights in the name of religion. Fascinating.

A melody that often sneaks from my unconscious to my conscious mind to sing repeatedly is the opening of the anthem by Herbert Howells, “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks.” The King James “hart” is the Palestinian gazelle.

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם– כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים.
ὃν τρόπον ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ἔλαφος ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων οὕτως ἐπιποθεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου πρὸς σέ ὁ θεός
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

I used to think I remembered the words of this anthem because the uncommonly beautiful music, once learned, is impossible

Like as the hart

Like as the hart

to forget. It may be the other way ’round.

Jill A. Fisher proposes that there are

. . . four primary overlapping functions of the tattoo. First, the tattoo functions as ritual. . . the tattoo can serve . . . as a physical mark of a life event. . . interpreted as significant by the bearer . . . The tattoo also functions as identification. . . as part of a given group . . . A third function of tattooing is protective . . . a talisman to protect its bearer from general or specific harm. . . the fourth function of tattoos is decorative . . . modifying the body with tattoos, the individual has chosen to add permanent decoration to his/her body. (Fisher, Jill A. “Tattooing the Body, Marking Culture.” Body and Society 8.4 (December 2002): 91-107.)

About ten days ago I had the image of the face of a Palestinian Gazelle tattooed on my right forearm with the Latin Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum (“As a deer longs for flowing streams”) circling my arm below it.

This was not my first tattoo. I had a stylized version of the Arabic words for “peace” and “love” intertwined tattooed on that arm about five months ago.

Since I last wrote about this phenomenon of late-in-life tattooing, I have been thinking about and (frankly, having difficulty) explaining to myself why I’ve had them done. I don’t much care (my sister says we are of a generation that makes one of two assumptions about men with tattoos, neither of which apply to me; she has not told me what those assumptions are) what anyone else thinks of them, but I would like a bit of self-understanding around this permanent modification of my body, especially in such obvious places. Why not on my upper arms or some other place on my body that I can easily cover?

As I have written about before, I had my first tattoo about six months ago—on my left arm, a rather startling image taken from a 15th-century Gregorian chant manuscript, the incipit of the funeral hymn, Dies irae (“Day of wrath, O day of mourning”).

The only other tattoo I plan to have is already prepared for by the illuminated “H” on my left shoulder. It will be the beginning of another Gregorian Chant, Haec díes quam fécit Dóminus (“This is the day the Lord has made”). I decided on the Haec díes because I wanted a chant that begins with “H” and has lots of complicated notation for Joe, the artist at Tigger’s on Main Street in Dallas, to copy. It will stretch from my shoulder half-way around my back.

Ritual. Identification. Protection. Decoration.

I’m fascinated by my own motives. My first tattooing was one week after my final semester on the faculty of SMU ended. The “H” came at the time I made a decision about how I want to spend the first period of my retirement. The Arabic “peace and love” came during the Israeli devastation of Gaza. And the gazelle came at a moment of change and redefinition of my life.
My first awareness of—and secret desire for—tattoos was in 4th grade when the older brother of one of my friends came home on leave from the Navy. I wanted a tattoo like the anchor he had on his arm. My getting tattoos is arrested development?

Perhaps.

. . . that day Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

. . . that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes . . .

Or perhaps my mind is finding rest somehow that I can’t predict, control, or understand. And these tattoos are either a part of that process or keeping track of it.

An indelible reminder that the end is coming. An acknowledgement that I long for—for what?—I do not know. A declaration that this is the day. An abiding desire for peace and love. In ancient languages. In images of ancient languages?

I did not have a grand plan for these tattoos. I’ve taken each without much thought about how it fit with the previous ones. But “Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks . . .” Palestine is desert-like. It’s easy to understand why a Palestinian Gazelle desireth the waterbrooks. Does the gazelle know why, or understand the nature of the water?

Dies irae
The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the Sibyl!
How much tremor there will be,
when the Judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Haec díes
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.

Peace and love.

It has my back.
Haec Dies banner

One Response to Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.

  1. Pingback: “. . . There is no gazelle in today’s headline . . .” (Naomi Shihab Nye) | Palestine InSight

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: