Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Head Coverings - An Experiment

Head Coverings – an Experiment

It’s been over a year now since I began my experiment.  I began it without telling anyone, and only a few people have even asked about it.  (That may be because I am generally so independent in dress and practice that my friends think nothing of an additional quirk.) 

Years ago when asked about wearing jewelry in church, I suggested to a group of ladies that we ought to follow the Bible and see what happens, even if we don’t understand it.  To be honest, I have never yet given up braids or gold or other jewelry in church.  And if the spirit of the rule is to avoid displays of wealth, in our American society to have a strand of plastic pearls is not wealthy.  If the rule was to uphold modesty, eschewing distracting appearances even in church, then it might be argued that wearing skirts and hats draws more attention than a braid or bracelet.  But I don’t know.  Maybe my next experiment will be to avoid jewelry and fancy hairstyles. 

I’ve known for years that when men take off their hats out of respect: for the Pledge of Allegiance or for a prayer, girls are exempt.  This is a fact I learned from a friend when we were both fourth graders, and her family attended a church that practiced head-coverings.  What has baffled me since is the militant way in which church members of the older generation will go after men and boys wearing their hats in the church building.  They are indignant at the disrespect.  All the while women walk right by without hats or scarves or even those ritualized doilies some denominations employ.  Their own wives sit through church and prayer uncovered.  Women speak in church and teach in church, present special music in church – all without head coverings. 

Now I can understand confusion about head coverings.  The passage in 1 Corinthians that goes into the subject is about as unclear as any Scripture you can find.  Hats and hair.  Glory and order of creation.  Nature and angels.  You can do this but we have no such (or other?) practice…  What is strange is the modern hypocrisy.  The same passage that instructs women to cover their heads teaches men to uncover theirs.  And we enforce the distinction for men but completely overlook the women? 

This is a relatively new practice, this lack of head coverings.  Even a half-century ago women wore hats to church.  In some parts of the country and in some denominations you can still find the women in proper Sunday attire, where hats are absolutely required.  The “Easter bonnet” is not a unique holiday accessory, but like the rest of traditional Easter dress, it is a fancier edition of the weekly affair.  (We can debate whether Easter ought to be celebrated in this way, or whether Sundays should be distinguished with a unique set of clothes, but not in this article.)

Once upon a time I began to wonder what it meant to be a grown woman.  Or a good woman.  I made myself a list, in theory to refer to it frequently to hold myself accountable.  The list referenced numerous passages of Scripture specifically addressed to women.  It categorized specific instructions under general virtues.  Rather than ignoring the verses about head coverings, I said that a woman ought to respect men and to wear a head covering in church (or some other symbol of her submission).  Then I never tried to practice it, in general excusing myself by reason of having long hair (paralleled with head coverings in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians). 

And one day just over a year ago some friends and I were talking about head coverings, how confusing the passage is and how so few Christians we know keep the ordinance.  It was then I remembered that obscure item on my list of godly femininity.  I felt hypocritical to have acknowledged the instruction and never tried to apply it, especially as I debated the subject.  In addition, I became curious.  If I couldn’t deduct from the biblical text the reasons and implications of head coverings, maybe I should try submitting to the custom and see what happened.

First a few superficial observations:  My hat and scarf collection is much larger than it used to be, but I rarely wear the larger hats because I feel so self-conscious in them.  Deciding what to wear to church (or Bible study or prayer meeting) is much more difficult since I must coordinate my outfit to an available head covering.  And when I do other things with my day, my hair and hats must fit with a multi-purpose outfit.  I try to keep at least one hat or scarf in my car in case I spontaneously decide to attend a Bible study. 

Some questions that arose:  I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m wearing a head covering, especially since it is more an experiment than a conviction; but isn’t it the point, that there is an outward and observable sign of submission?  Since the instruction is, to be specific, given to women praying or prophesying, if I am listening to prayer at a gathering or not saying anything, should I be covered?  Is the head covering supposed to be only for prayer time and church gatherings, or is it ok for me to have worn the hat all day?  If I’m praying silently to myself, as in spontaneously throughout my days, should I have my head covered?  And if I don’t happen to be wearing a hat when someone asks me to bless the food, should I decline? 

In the months since I began my experiment, there have been a few times when I forgot or neglected to wear a hat.  It bothered me.  Partially because perhaps I am developing a conviction on the matter.  The other part is that I feel different.  On occasion I have been at a party when friends started discussing spiritual truth and I felt the lack of something on my head.  I wanted it there.  If you have grown up like me, invited to close your eyes when you pray, you may be able to relate.  Have you ever tried keeping your eyes open during a public prayer?  It’s hard to focus, and you feel a self-conscious.  Or I could compare the feeling to the one I get when I want to lift my hands in worship – or fall to the ground as I pray. 

I like to sit on the floor while I’m being taught about spiritual things.  (Which isn’t the same as sitting on the floor during a sermon.)  If I start to realize I’m being taught – or if I crave a Bible lesson from someone who understands something I’m wondering about – I get a mental image of myself getting out of my chair, and going to the floor, back against a desk or a wall or something.  I also get this feeling on my head as though a book has just been lifted off of it.  And I want it back.

Even though Paul says that head coverings are a sign, for other people, I can testify to its effect on me.  I am reminded to be submissive.  To speak for the purpose of edification.  To be mindful of the Holy God I serve.  It helps me to rejoice that men were created first, and women for men – though we certainly benefit from them in their leadership and teaching. 

I had been curious whether people would treat me differently if I wore hats and scarves all the time to church.  But it has been hard to determine.  The small reason is that I know that I behave differently wearing them, so that might have something to do with different reactions.  A larger reason is that I have nothing to compare it to.  I started this experiment at the same time that I left my old church, and I have been attending other churches only occasionally.  My regular Bible study is comprised of dear friends who know me so well that nothing like a hat will change how they treat me. 

One friend noticed the first time I ever went to church with her that I had my head covered.  She asked whether I always did.  It was early in the experiment and I haltingly said something about trying it out.  Another friend also mentioned it, but not as a question.  Like so many things, she had just taken this aspect of my behavior in stride, made note of it, and accepted it as a reality not requiring discussion.  My parents and siblings and other friends have never brought it up.  I don’t know if they’re afraid to, don’t need to, or haven’t noticed. 

For me, I like wearing head coverings when I pray and study the Bible with other people.  I haven’t gained any great insight to the topic.  But it isn’t too hard to keep doing it, so I suppose I will.  With the promise of updates if I ever learn anything else.

To God be all glory.

3 comments:

MInTheGap said...

Thanks for this post-- it's fascinating. My wife and I have read through this passage and wondered about it many times, and I haven't felt compelled to ask her/instruct her to wear hats based on it.

I think it's been all too easy to justify "long hair" as being a hair covering, but even my pastor would say that this is a cultural thing for the time. That hasn't totally sat well with me, however.

Reading your account makes me want to revisit the issue again with more thought/prayer. Thanks.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Thanks. Let me know if you learn anything. I'm still a lot confused about it.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Deb said...

Very thought provoking...unclear about the issue myself