Sunday, January 17, 2010

Veiled Attempt

My Korean bonus baby came back from Christmas with an exceptional gift for me. He brought me a lovely, pale lavender veil from his homeland, a place where women still customarily cover their heads in church. It was the last piece in a series of events that propelled me into the oddest journey of self-discovery I’ve had in a very long time, and it reminded me that the Spirit can teach some lively lessons in unexpected ways if only we let down our defenses.

There’s a small cadre of Catholic women roaming about the blogosphere who have been experimenting with “covering.” I became intrigued when I read a series of posts on The Anchoress on the subject, in part because the notion pulls at me in a very primal way. Part of worship is to set the time, the place and myself aside from the world. Going to mass should be different from what I do in the rest of my life.

Like everyone else, I am accustomed to dressing differently for the things I do in life. When I am re-enacting, presenting living history of the Civil War from a first-person perspective, everything I wear, right down to my underpinnings, is authentic to 1860. No makeup. Hair parted in the middle. Boots, not shoes. Even period glasses, tiny little things because optical glass was so expensive back then. I shed my rings and nail-polish (on those rare occasions when I have it--truth be told, I generally sport an 1860’s manicure in real life), and I assume the persona of a cook-laundress during the Late Unpleasantness. And as I do, I learn something about that place, that time, that way of doing things that stretches my life in unexpected ways.

This causes some consternation to me in my spiritual life, however, when I actually reflect on it. Try as I may, my dress for church tends to the casual and ordinary, in part be cause of the limited nature of my current wardrobe, and in part because that’s the norm these days. At Saturday mass, jeans are common; on Sunday, the sartorial bar is lifted a notch, but the reality is, pretty much what you see at church you’ll see at the store, in the movie theater or in the mall. Gone are the days of Sunday best that I remember from my childhood.

Now I understand that being focused on what I wear, trying to outdo my neighbor in elegance, or looking down on someone else for simple clothes is neither proper etiquette nor conducive to my spiritual growth. But then again, I am going to see the King of the Universe on Sunday mornings. Perhaps I might teach myself a lesson in piety, awe and holiness if I try to reflect that in my dress.

I had been trying to sort all that out, toying with the idea that head-covering might fill the bill when our Korean son came home with the veil.

Every mother reading this KNOWS what that meant. The next Sunday, I was going to be appearing in church with my head covered, no questions asked. After all, my boy brought this back to me as a gift, and one meant to be used. God was, in fact, calling my cosmic bluff. So you want to be set apart for me? Just how much? What are you willing to do?

Essential to understanding the little psychic drama that ensued is the knowledge that I have so little self insight that I truly believe that I can ghost through life unnoticed. I am convinced that if I stand still long enough, I can merge into the wallpaper and not be seen. I dislike anything I cannot control that draws attention to me. My groom calls this my “better arrested than embarrassed” mentality.

I’ve managed to get past it in most areas of my life I endured life-threatening butterflies of the stomach to learn to speak in public and serve on committees. I have managed to squelch my self-consciousness long enough to learn to be a re-enactress. I even sang (I can’t) in the church talent show once, to encourage my daughter to sing (she can) her first-ever solo in public.

But I have not gotten past my self-consciousness in church. It’s the one place where I really do just want to melt into the woodwork, be present, be worshipful and not be conspicuous. It’s why you’ll generally find me dressed midway on the fashion spectrum generally in something dull and never, ever setting a trend.

Except, apparently, today. I took my usual seat, pulled out the gossamer piece of fabric, and put it on my head.

I was certain that every eye in the place was instantly on me, wondering what this nutty woman was doing. Had I committed that worst-of-all-possible Southern sins, “putting on airs” or “getting above my raising?” I felt my cheeks flame, and concentrated on keeping my head still out of fear that that the veil would slide off.

Without the ability to look around (self conscious and self imposed, but very effective) my thoughts ended up swirling around that tiny bit of cloth, and they went something like this.

Stop worrying about it. So what if people look at you. You’re doing this for someone you love. If you can’t endure a little humiliation for your bonus-kid, what kinds of things are you not doing for Christ out of fear of looking foolish?

The last time I wore a veil I was getting married. Married. A bride. The Church is the Bride of Christ--remember that piece you read just this week. How it’s important to look at the Church in terms of marital union and oneness with Christ. I am to become one with Him, too. And look, the readings today are about brides, and the wedding at Cana. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to be reminded of my wedding day just now.

How can I keep this thing on and look around? Not sure, better be still. Be still. Be still, pre-requisite to knowing anything about God. Could it be that this wisp of lace is a way to stop me enough to make be be still and listen? I’ve been fretting that I don’t know what God wants of me, and maybe it’s because I am never still long enough to hear that small voice?

And so on, at least until the Processional began, and then, magically, I pretty much forgot about it, until one of the women asked about it when we passed the peace. “You look lovely in it. It’s nice to see.”

And after church another woman came up to me to ask where I had gotten it. “I like wearing one," she said, “It shows respect to God, but I’ve always been too embarrassed. If you’re wearing yours, maybe I’ll wear mine next week.”

Her granddaughter appeared just about then and wanted to know where she might get one, too. “I like it,” was her comment. “It makes church special.” And at the lunch that followed, one man came up and told me it reminded him of his mother, who never went to church without her head covered, and what a good memory that was.

Another asked me why I had chosen to wear it-- knowing that there’s always a reason with me.

Because someone I love brought it for me. Because it really did set Sunday apart for me. Because it was an act of piety that just might teach me to let go of self-consciousness in favor or Christ-consciousness and humility.

It turned out to be something so unexpectedly beautiful in so many ways, wearing that little veil. I need to be reminded that sometimes, the old ways have merits we cannot even see until we immerse ourselves in them. I found that out in re-enacting--I am beginning to discover it in my life of faith.

And all thanks to a bit of lavender lace. Perhaps I’ll wear it again, and this time with comfort and ease.


  1. This veil saga of your is interesting. My husbands people are Mennonite, and refer to their white lace caps as "coverings" informally, but "the Christian woman's veil" formally. I have never cut my hair to this day, because my church taught that a woman's hair is her covering. I have only one friend who openly talks to me about his Catholic faith. He married a cradle Catholic, but converted only a few years ago. When I mentioned women veiling, he didn't know what I was talking about. Never heard of it, which surprised me.
    Are you still wearing it?

  2. I am still covering, because doing so has become a real part of my expression of prayer. It really does set the time apart and prepare me to think differently. Wearing the veil has become simply part of my personal devotion and it helps me to settle into time apart that I have set aside for God. I guess because it's something I took on, rather than having it forced upon me, it has a different perspective. I'm not frantic on the rare occasion that I have forgotten to bring it along (which has only happened once or twice) but I am comfortable and comforted that it has become part of my routine. My Korean bonus-baby recently sent me three more beautiful veils, and I often get compliments on them.

    I am familiar with the Mennonite-Amish tradition as well, and there's a part of me that thinks those coverings would have been easier to master! Still, my headband and corsage pin trick seems to have worked, and I am glad that I persisted.