Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Long Answer

The question has been asked: "What's with the mantilla?"  I've offered short answers, but here's the long one, at long last.

The notion of covering my head in worship settings has been with me since I was in Jr. High School.  That was when I first encountered St. Paul's letters on my own -- apart from the topical use of them in sermons and Bible studies I had attended to that point.  I remember being particularly interested in his "propriety in worship" teachings.  Someone had remarked once to me that the church I attended at the time reminded her of "kids playing church," and it had bothered me.  I felt a need to understand why we did things the way we did, and to understand why it didn't seem "real" to some.  I won't say it was an obsession, but it was certainly the beginning of a long journey to understand my faith and the way I practiced it, and the way I wanted to practice it.  Maybe it was my age, maybe it was the voice of the Holy Spirit already pulling me toward Catholicism, (probably both), but where I noticed things that the Bible directed that were not in practice in my church, I really dug to figure out why.

First Corinthians 11 was one of "those passages." But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil...if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given [her] for a covering."  I had never even SEEN a woman with her head covered in church.  Imagine the fuss this discovery set off in my mind!  German Baptists, Mennonites, and Amish women (who traditionally cover their heads all the time) were a rare sight where I grew up.  There were plenty of unaffiliated Pentecostals around who all wore long hair, but none who covered.  I wrestled with the point with all the wisdom I could muster at 13, and decided that WE didn't cover at church (or anywhere else) because we weren't "long-hair" Pentecostals.  I made an uneasy peace with the explanation that Paul's words were a product of their time and culture and that they didn't really apply in our society.

Now, fast forward about 20 years. I hadn't set foot in a protestant service in 12 years or more, but that whole long hair/covered head thing was still with me.  I even had a little secret wish in the back of my mind when I saw women with their heads covered in church:  that I had always worn a veil so that I wouldn't have to figure out a way to start, or to explain myself if I did.  I saw those women as "grandfathered (grandmothered?) in" to the veil-wearing club before Vatican II changed the whole world.  Then one night, I was in the adoration chapel.  It was late (my hour was 1-2 am), and I was alone with Jesus.  It was winter, so the basement chapel was quite chilly.  I had a wrap over my shoulders to keep me warm, and I was overwhelmed by the urge to cover my head.  I pulled my wrap over my head, and something changed in me. I wrote to a Mennonite friend about it then:

I was immediately swept with a sense of rightness, and that passage of scripture came back into my mind. I was raised by some bull-headed, girl-power, no-man's-gonna-rule-me women, and so finding my right place in marriage and in faith has always had a taste of that rebellion in it. That night at the chapel, though, it was gone. I felt as much like a woman as I ever have. Not in a girly-girl kind of way, but in a truly, Godly-ordered kind of way. It was right and seemly, and I haven't cut my hair since. What's the point, after all, if it is covered? It has ceased to be a point of vanity because it is always up when I leave the house.

It took a few more years after that night, but I now cover my head at Mass and in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  It is my testimony to what I believe about the True Presence, and about a woman's  proper response to that presence.  That bit of cloth is the difference between me coming boldly before the throne of grace and coming brazenly.  I still struggle with being the woman I am to be before God, and I was worried about what others might say about my motivation in wearing a veil.  Here's the thing, though: we do not wait to do things until we have mastered them; we master them by doing.  From the time we are children until we leave this world, we practice to get things right, and then keep practicing to make them perfect and to sustain what we have achieved.  I wear a veil, fully aware of what it symbolizes: humility, submission, reverence, and being set apart in a uniquely feminine way.  I pray that by God's grace I will come more fully into those virtues, better living as Christ has called me to live.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


September 11, 2001. Ten years later, the images and sounds of that day, and the fear that I felt, and the sense that my world had changed forever are still with me.  I knew before that day that there were people in the world who despised America and our way of life.  I knew that in other places, I could be imprisoned, tortured, or killed for even whispering opinions I held about freedom, faith, and a myriad of other "normal" aspects of my life as I knew it.  But never before that day did I feel unsafe.  Before that day, "those people" were faces and names far away, in countries I never expected to visit.  They could hate me from their world while I was safe in mine.  My parents' Vietnam, my grandparents' World War II -- these had affected them in fundamental ways.  The wars had affected their everyday lives and remained with them, but the bloodshed was far away, and the Americans lost, by and large,were lost in conflict.  September 11, 2001, the bloodshed was here.  Americans were lost not with guns in their hands, but with briefcases and serving trays and merchandise from their stores.  They were ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, who had no reason to think that that day would be their last.  So many had their lives taken that day, and so many more gave theirs away.  We will never know all of the stories.  We will never know just how many lives were saved because a police officer or firefighter stood in harm's way and gave others time to flee.  We will never know just how many ordinary men and women ushered others to safety as their last actions on this earth.  We will never know, at least not fully, the impact of that day on those who were there, on all of us who remember, or on the generations that follow us.

And so today, ten years later, we remember.  We pray for the dead and for those they left behind.  We pray for those who found joy in sorrow, and those who still suffer in bitterness.  We pray for those who did what they could to protect then, and those who are doing what they can to protect us now.  I am so grateful that, for all the possibilities that entered my awareness that day ten years ago, for all the vulnerabilities, for all the things I took for granted that could be used to harm me or my family, I am safe.  There are men and women every day, here in our country and abroad, who are working to protect and defend us, our way of life, our ideals, and our freedom to live and speak as we choose, without the constant threat of harm from those who would take our freedom and our lives simply because we are not like them and do not live as they live or believe as they believe.  I pray that we never, ever forget that freedom isn't free. 

We cannot really ever give a voice to the unspeakable.  I will chose silence today, as I am sure many others will, in remembering....