Friday, May 23, 2008

Choosing and Using Your Weapon

As promised in my prior post on headcovering, I agreed to share my own personal experience as a covering woman in a non-covering church. We've already discussed the why, so now let's take a look at the what, where, when and how of headcovering.

What Type of Cover Should I Wear?

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.


Where & When Should I Cover?

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.

How Do I Handle The Reactions of Others?

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!

Conclusion

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!

11 comments:

Sammybunny said...

I think we are doing the exact same thing, Jennifer! I do not cover all day, partly because my hair takes a good three hours to dry in the morning and I do not want to get my covering + hair looking all weird and most of my prayers during the day are quick and spontaneous. I DO however veil at night while I do my devotion/prayer time/Scripture reading. I will also wear my covering at church. I just recently began to cover, so this will actually be my first Sunday covering! What style do you wear your head scarf at church? Do you wear it like an Israeli Tichel or some variation of a veil? I will probably wear a very wide head band that is really I guess a short scarf on my first time. I too want to avoid it becoming a habit that I "just do" without remembering what it is about. I agree with you about the planned thing. :o) Again, thank you for all of the help with the template and your blog is always such a blessing to me!

Jennifer said...

Hi, Sammybunny.

I generally prefer a large square scarf, but I have also worn rectangular and triangular scarves. The easiest and most comfortable style for me to wear is a bun. Normally I will simply veil at home by draping a large shawl or pashmina over my head, back, and shoulders. However, if I am really pouring my heart out to God, I will throw on a snood or make sure I have something that I won't have to hold onto when I change my prayer posture. But I'll write more about that in my next post.

Steve and Paula said...

Hi Jennifer,
Welcome to headcovering!
Come on over some time....
Paula in Alaska

Geraldine said...

This post is such a blessing! Thanks Jen. You have in so few words expounded wonderfully on headcovering. There are so many great points you have mentioned. I have to say that by coincidence i too wear a heacovering only in public worship and planned private prayer times.
My preferred covering is scarf and those with elastic so there's no need for tying and it covers the whole head still as a scarf would.
You made two very good points, i believe, in your conclusion;
1."The decision to cover is one that comes with great study and prayer."
2."A woman who chooses to cover publicly should be thoroughly prepared for the reactions, whispers, and questions she may experience from others."
Covering for me has been a deeply personnal and gradual thing. Your posts on headcovering both confirm to me why i cover. Thanks Jen :-)

Alana said...

Hi,

I have felt a pull towards covering since the time I was in my early 20's...maybe in my teen years even. I have covered off and on over the years, but it's something that just won't let me go, so when I'm not covering, I feel like I perhaps should be.

After I graduated from a protestant seminary with an M.Div, I joined a mennonite Church and started wearing a doily all the time. (I've never used my degree professionally). I felt called to do this, even though I was the only woman there who did. Most of the women there had been forced to cover and were reacting against it.

When dh and I converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity I kept wearing a covering, but switched to wearing a scarf in Church and not covering all the time.

Lately, I feel like God's been calling me to cover full time, and really concentrate on that "prayer without ceasing" which is so hard to do. I spoke with my priest about it, and his caution was that I not become judgemental of women who don't cover. I assured him that wasn't in my heart, but rather I sometimes wonder WHY God would lay it on my heart, something that can be so hard, and not on someone else's heart.

For me, every day is difficult, to some degree. I am vain. I want to look normal and pretty. But I put my cover on and I say: "I do not belong to myself, I belong to God. God's will be done in my life." Every day is a death, and so far, it is far from routine. I think I worry the most about what my husband thinks. He's "supportive", but sometimes I wonder...

I lack courage and I am often wishy washy. Hence, over the years I have done and not done this. God have mercy on me and help me to be consistent! Wearing a covering is also a sign of growth in that area, I guess.

I appreciate your posts on this subject, and fondly wish I felt free to write about this on my blog, but I just don't. So I just do it...Thanks for letting me share a bit here.

I really like the idea of you and others quietly covering at home when you pray. It's a quiet revolution. Anything, to p-o the evil one, I say!

Jennifer said...

Hi, Alana. Thank you so much for sharing your heart here! I had a whole response to your thoughts written here, but I think I might just turn that response into another post. You have given me a lot to think about, which for me transates to more writing material! Thank you for the inspiration and please visit again soon!

Wretched said...

HA! They didn't recognize you with the covering and I have a hard time recognizing you without. Or I did until we spent more time together outside church.
I remembered what the snood is. You better be proud of me. I didn't even write it down! You lost me at pashmina but I'm trying :)
That is horrible their husbands won't let them cover!! What a shame...

Pamela said...

Thnkyou for the posts on this subject.. ! I am a just-turned-20 yr christian australian woman..
i have many muslim friends,and studied Islam for a long time. I ahve also lived in the middle east. I always felt drawn to hijab, and yet am not Muslim. It was only recently that i discovered information about christian women who cover (outside of amish/orthodox groups.) I am considerign covering full time (i already cover durign prayer.) However i dont know to go about it. I have attended mostly Church of Christ, Baptist and Anglican Church, and they all fit with me, and im not into 'religiousity' (for want of a better word!) What I am finding hard atm is the that I dont "fit" the idea of covering. I greatly admire Christian sisters who are subdued and modest, wear long skirts and dresses - but this isnt me. I am a passionate person, study political science, do volunteer work with refugees and human rights. As an activist shy and retiring isnt in my nature! I love music, dancing, beign with lots of people. I can dress modetsly like a long top/dress over jeans, covering up my booty, not wearing things too tight or low cut, or above the knee - and have already made that transition but even so i wonder if this "fits" with the image of Christian head covering - if it isnt enough? Wearing a cover and a mini-skirt would be ridiculous we agree.. so how far does it go? How should one dress to 'match' covering?
Also I still wear make-up too (not extreme colours or loads, but more than a slick of lip gloss n some foundation.) Because I don't know any women who cover I have no examples - and all the women i see online are older, married and more coventional - orthodox, catholic etc .. any ideas ladies? Or am I kidding myself that i can be both covered without adhering to a particular dress code/life style?

Jennifer said...

Hi, Pamela.

I generally wear pants. I personally don't think it is required for women to wear dresses or skirts in an effort to be modest. I have considered adding more skirts to my wardrobe, but I feel like the only reason I'd be doing that is because other women do. I don't know if you saw the post Who Wears the Pants, but that might give you some added help in choosing your wardrobe from the neck down (read the comments as well -- they are very helpful!) Take care!

Pamela said...

thanks Jennifer! I read the post, which I found insightful, along with the comments. It described precisely my points as to why pants are no issue scripturally, so for me it was purely on the basis of whether they are "modest enough." I agree with you that a strong motive to changing to skirts/dresses is because of other women. As a 'new comer' to covering,it can be a bit of a culture shock when most sites advocate very modest dress, including little or no make-up and jewlery and dresses/skirts as necessary. Thanks for the pointers!

Jennifer said...

Hi, Pamela. It seems you lean more toward my assessment of modesty. I believe that modesty means we take things "in moderation." (As in, "a modest helping of mashed potatoes.") No makeup or no jewelery is technically not "in moderation." I know the word is used differently in this sense, but that is how I generally approach my appearance. I do not think modesty=frumpy.

It's great to have you here!