This was probably the first question I had. After doing a bit of research on the internet, I found that there were many different types of headcovering for Christian women to choose from. There are doilies, hats, snoods, headscarves, veils, turbans, shawls, bonnets, and caps, to name a few. So which one is the "correct" choice? Personally, I think it is a matter of personal preference. Contrary to popular belief, headcovering is not a matter of modesty, rather, the Scripture indicates it is a symbol of authority. Similar to baptism, the cover is an outward sign of an inward change. Therefore, the face or hair does not have to be covered. The crown of the head should be covered first and foremost. The rest is details.
I wanted my covering to be big enough so that it would be obvious that I was covering and not just wearing an oversized hair accessory. This was not because I wanted to flaunt what I was doing, rather, it was to prevent me from being embarrassed of covering. While I am extremely attracted to the various decorative doilies that are available, I knew that I would be less conspicuous if I wore one. The same goes for hats. Many people today wear hats just to be stylish, and I didn't want the safety net of blending in. In addition, hats are not practical. They take up far too much storage space in the closet, and one must take great pains to protect the hat from being crushed. Not to mention, an oversized brim can be extremely annoying to the person sitting behind you in church!
The headscarf became my headcovering of choice (followed by the shawl) for several reasons: first, they take up very little storage space. This allows you to always have one handy in your bag or purse. You can keep several dozen in a dresser drawer or storage bin. They are also very versatile additions to your regular, everyday wardrobe. Finally, they are fairly inexpensive, making it easy to own several of them and get really creative with tying them and matching them to your outfit.
The Bible says a woman should cover whenever she is praying or prophesying. Scripture also tells us to pray without ceasing. Some have made the personal decision to always be covered for this reason. I have chosen a different approach. Because this is a symbol that has great meaning to me, I do not want it to become a boring habit (no pun intended). This reasoning compares with the manner in which we observe the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is not observed every single time we are with the brethren. Most Christians will not observe communion at Bible study or casual fellowship. Rather, they will only observe this ordinance on Sundays in corporate gatherings. My church takes this a step further -- we only observe the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of the month. This prevents the Lord's Supper from becoming an ordinary ritual that grows dull in our hearts.
Likewise, I have patterned my headcovering choices after this reasoning. I choose only to cover during all corporate and individual times of worship, prayer, and teaching that are planned. Basically, I cover every Sunday in church, and during my quiet time with God. I do this to keep the meaning of my covering fresh. I personally feel if I covered all the time, it would be more about the covering than about the Lord and eventually become a thing of legalism. But again, I believe each woman needs to discern for herself where and when she will cover.
This one simply takes some getting used to. There were many different reactions I encountered when I began covering. I go to a church that has roughly 500 people on any given Sunday, and with the exception of one woman who is a missionary to India (and covers with doilies and bonnets) I am the only woman who covers in my church. I knew it might be a little weird for some folks, so the first thing I did was I announced my decision to those closest to me (including my pastor). This gave me moral support for the first few weeks in the beginning. It also prepared these individuals ahead of time, and was less of a shock to them when I did begin covering.
The first thing I noticed when I started covering was that many people didn't recognize me. I had many people treat me as though I was a first time visitor and greet me very warmly. So it was nice to go "undercover" (pun intended) and see how my church treats a visitor.
Some folks were extremely upset with my decision, and I was fully prepared for this. I know the reason why 99% of Christian women do not cover today is because they've either been taught it is a cultural thing, or because the practice was forced on them in a legalistic fashion. Knowing why I cover and being able to communicate this to the critics has made all the difference. In fact, many realized immediately after being provided with a logical explanation that their condemnation of a woman who covers by choice is no different than the condemnation of women who cover by force. They quickly changed their minds and are now accepting of my decision.
One thing I was not prepared for was the reaction of the men at my church. Several men approached me and asked me flat out if I was observing 1 Corinthians 11. When I said yes, they lit up like a Christmas tree. Many have expressed their support by telling me how beautiful, admirable, and encouraging it is for them to see a woman covering on her own.
A third reaction came from other women who have become intrigued with my covering. I have had three married women approach me with questions on my practice. One has made the decision to cover, easing into it with hats and now has graduated to draping a shawl over her head. Two others have confided in me that they have a deep desire to cover, but their husbands will not allow it. When I asked why, they said, "He just doesn't want me doing it." I have a feeling these husbands are afraid others will think they forced their wives to cover. This is a sad commentary on the culture's view of Biblical Femininity. When a simple headcovering is popularly viewed as an instrument of female oppression, no man wants to appear as though he is forcing that on his wife.
This is why it has been a real blessing for me to be covering as a single woman. There is no man "forcing" me to do this. Coming to church week after week with a scarf on my head is not only a sign to the angels, but also to those husbands and other women in my church that this is not about oppression -- it's about empowerment!
I have been covering now for almost four months in a non-covering church and people still look at me funny, but I think they're getting used to it. People no longer treat me like a visitor -- they now recognize me for who I am. Another fun thing is that the cover is a great identifier. If I have a visitor come to my church, they will often tell an usher they are looking for me and describe me as "the woman with the headscarf" and the usher is able to find me right away, even if I decide to change where I normally sit. One thing that I still experience though, is people staring at my head. Many will greet me each Sunday, look me in the eyes, smile, and then it never fails -- I see their gaze move from my eyes to my head. I suppose in a way that makes the headcovering a good argument for modesty, because if everyone is looking at my head, I know they're not looking where they shouldn't!
Overall, the decision to cover is one that comes with great study and prayer. A woman who chooses to cover publicly should be thoroughly prepared for the reactions, whispers, and questions she may experience from others. Although her first few public appearances as a covered woman will be a bit distracting for her nonetheless, being unprepared can further distract that woman's attention from worship and from the Sunday message.
Once a woman understands why she is covering and is able to provide an answer to those who ask, her next task is learning how to wear the covering. A covering that comes loose or constantly falls off in church can be yet another distraction to the covering woman and others around her. In my next post, I plan to address some tricks and tips for keeping that fabric on your head!