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Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Wear a Headcovering in Church

I've been asked this a lot.  I'm not sure that my answer is really pertinent to the discernment of other women, but a sincere question deserves an answer.

I had felt called to cover, and toyed a bit with doing it, when some years ago, at the Easter Vigil, the deacon began to sing the Exsultet (the Easter proclamation hymn which announces the dignity and meaning of the resurrection).  I was, as I am every year, overcome by the sacredness and lyrical beauty of this ancient hymn, and by the fact that I was standing in consecrated space sharing the experience of women across centuries who, too, had stood in sacred space listening to the evocative rhythms and poignant lyrics of this very song.  Struck by the holiness of the experience, and intensely aware that I was standing in the very presence of our Lord, angels, and the faithful across time and space in the Communion of Saints, I covered my head with the scarf that I had around my neck.  I have never gone back.

We dress well for events that we value.  Being well dressed shows respect for the event, our fellow attendees, and ourselves.  Church is no different, except that in church we are going to meet God.  This is especially true if we adhere to a faith that holds that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament.  The way that we are dressed impacts our perspective and behavior.  Many women, myself included, find that this is true of veiling, as well.

Part of showing respect for our fellow attendees is embracing modesty in worship so that we support the men in attendance by refraining from throwing distractions in their way.  Our brothers in Christ are bombarded on an unrelenting basis with sexual images, not just in the media, but on the bodies of women all around them in daily life.  We ought really to give them a break, at least in church.

There is also the headcovering passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  (It is quoted at the bottom of this post.)  I have read all of the arguments against a scriptural mandate for covering.  I do not extend any obligation to cover to other Christian women.  However, Christian women, worldwide, covered their heads at prayer from the beginnings of Christianity all the way until the advent of Feminism in the 1960s.  If nearly 2000 years worth of Christians, across times, cultures, Church affiliation, and geographic boundaries, interpreted this passage to extend beyond the limited culture of Corinth, that is good enough for me.  I think I’ll go with nearly 2000 years of Christian practice over 40 years of Feminism.  I also believe that the writings of the Church Fathers clarify that it was the practice  in the early church to cover.

I find that people who do not know me, but see me veiled, assume that my husband is aggressive and controlling.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  My choice to veil is my own.  He supports that choice, but had nothing to do with its initiation.  I do, however, respect and value my husband’s role as a leader, protector, and provider in our family, and my veiling is also a nod to that respect.  I do not believe that covering subjugates a woman.  I believe that covering elicits, even demands, respect for the sacredness of womanhood.  In a culture that devalues women by exposing them, veiling restores a level of respect for her honor.

I have read plenty of reactions from women regarding others who cover, some of which suggest the the woman who veils considers herself more “holy” or spiritual than the one who does not.  Covering is about me and God, not about me and the woman in the next pew.  If anything, veiling can be very humbling.  It’s not easy being counter cultural…or wondering what others are thinking about the practice.

I’m sure that there are women who believe that covering is essential to salvation, but I personally have never met or communicated with one.  For most women, covering is something that one feels called to do, not required to do.

Veiling has blessed my walk with Christ in many ways. It has kept me focused on the point of church attendance, increased my respect for my husband, increased my humility, deepened my prayer life, taught me that my relationship to my creator is more important to me than the opinions of other people, and enabled me to give a gift of worship to God.

I don't share these things because I expect that others should adopt my practices.  I share them only because I have been asked.  Whatever your approach to drawing close to our Lord, I pray that you will be blessed by it.

A marvelous pictorial history of Christian head covering throughout the centuries can be found here.

Pax Christi,

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved.  If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.  In the Lord, however,  woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace  to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For long hair is given to her as a covering.  If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have  no other practice-nor do the churches of God.
~1 Cor. 11: 2-16

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  1. The pictures you posted are so pretty! I love covering for all the reasons you's just a great way to feel more connected to our history and to God. I don't mind that I'm the only one that does it in our parish, and my friends don't mind either.
    Long live head covering...!

  2. You have done well in sharing your desire to cover. I am on this journey myself. It is a calling; my desire to do so. And, I am humbled that I sense God's pleasure and delight in my obedience to this calling.

    I'd like to feature this on Domestically Divine this Tuesday. I shall grab the picture of you veiled. If there is a problem, please let me know.



    1. Thanks so much Jasmine. I am honored that you would do so. I admire your blog a great deal. Feel free to grab any picture. However, the pictures are of my daughter. If only I were so young and beautiful, haha! (Being the young daughter of a veil maker is a curse; I can assure you. The poor souls live in fear of cameras!) =D

  3. I have been covering for four years now. I too studied, wondered if I was being silly, etc. The part that I could not deny was the fact that 1 Corinthians 11 speaks on the Lords Supper and on a woman covering her head. I decided if I knew that the Lord's Supper was not just for the first believers of the early chruch then I needed to obey the command to cover my head as well. I too have found that I am more focused, and humbled before the Lord when I am in church with my head covered. Thanks for this post!

  4. I do not wear a head covering in church but I did enjoy reading about your reasons for wearing one. Obviously, if I felt God convicting my heart to wear one, I would happily obey. However, for me personally, I believe the bigger issue is modesty, as you spoke about. At least, it is the bigger issue in my church.

    After reading that verse, I don't understand it to mean that we should wear head coverings at it states "For long hair is given to her as a covering". In other words, I understand this to mean that it is more important that a woman have longer hair than to cover her head.

    Basically, as this verse states, I think women should "judge for yourselves" whether or not a head covering is a necessary part of worship.

    Thanks for sharing! Again, I enjoyed reading your perspective.

  5. i so enjoyed this post. thank you for sharing your journey- one i visit and revisit often ~smile
    i came from Jasmine's link up.

  6. Dear Michelle,
    may I feature this post as one of three this Wednesday on 'EOA'? I pray it will plant many seeds...may I use one of the photos of your daughter with a veil? Thank you.

    1. Of course, Jacqueline, I would be honored. Use any photo that you would like. There are some in the Etsy shop as well. Thanks for your kind comments tonight. I was a bit down (sinus infection) and you brightened my evening.
      God Bless.

  7. Very informative ~ I especially appreciate the point ~

    "Christian women, worldwide, covered their heads at prayer from the beginnings of Christianity all the way until the advent of Feminism in the 1960s. If nearly 2000 years worth of Christians, across times, cultures, Church affiliation, and geographic boundaries, interpreted this passage to extend beyond the limited culture of Corinth, that is good enough for me."

    Visiting from DEEP ROOTS AT HOME...

  8. What a beautiful post. Your words truly touched me and I think that your reasonings are beautiful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts :)

  9. I can see that the Biblical teaching is that a woman's head should be covered and that is why I have uncut hair. "It is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head." and in the last verse it says "For long hair is given to her as a covering."
    I can see clearly that it is a shame for her to cut her hair because God has given it to her for a covering. Long hair to me means letting it grow without cutting it, that way the races of people whose hair never grows out to their shoulders even, are still obedient and have a covering because they have not cut it.
    This is a very important discussion and I respect you deeply for your obedience to what you have seen and understood. God bless you for that!
    I also appreciate what you said about dressing modestly, and that needs to be our desire inside and outside of the church building. I do wish more Christian women understood that.
    Hugs, Cindy

  10. I can't read this post at the moment, but I wanted to first say hello, I'm a new follower. And secondly that I can't wait to read this because it is something that I see great value in and wish it would make a come back. I think it is absolutely beautiful and for me it reminds me of all the values our Beloved Mother represents.

  11. So I just got the chance to read this finally :) The women who veil in my church have always inspired me and I've always seen it as a great display of respect and worship for our Lord. I agree that I would rather go with 2000 years of Christian practice than 40 years of feminism; that is a excellent point to make. Thank you for sharing and touching on this topic.

  12. This is so interesting to me. I guess my biggest question is this, I do not go to only church to meet God. I meet with him throughout my day and the Holy Spirit lives within me. So with this being the case shouldn't I constantly be veiled?

    1. In the liturgical traditions, there is a belief that one receives the presence of Christ is a very real way in the reception of communion. The nature of that presence varies somewhat across traditions, but the process is a very sacred and real one across as one approaches the altar to participate in this mystery, one is essentially on holy ground...and receiving a tremendous gift of grace.

      As to whether one might wish to be veiled in daily life...many feel so, yes. If one interprets 1 Cor. 11 to mean that a woman's head ought be covered to pray...and we are to "pray without ceasing"...

      There are a variety of practices in the Christian headcovering community. What there is not, generally, is an attitude of judgment of women who do not cover...or a focus on opinions of what other women should do.

      Thanks for your thoughtful questioning!

  13. I really enjoyed reading this. I am of another faith, and although I feel very strongly about modesty, I'm one who believes in long hair as my covering.
    I enjoyed your post, though, as I can see you are very committed and passionate about this, I admire that.

  14. I wear headcoverings (so far) only at church, home study groups and other gatherings where I expect Scripture reading and prayer.
    I'd like to share something... whenever I don't feel like covering, it usually is a good idea to examine the relationship between my husband and me. If I don't want to cover, there is usually some tension, some unresolved disagreement or such between us that needs to be taken care of. I found that very interesting.
    ~Ilka W.J.

  15. I really liked your article and your beautiful, humble and non-judgemental spirit about this issue. I am a contemporary Christianity Protestant, not Amish or Mennonite, but I also believe the scripture do NOT teach long hair is the covering that Paul was instructing women to wear to cover their heads. My only problem is what could I wear that does not look too much out of place or foreign to my western culture? All the head coverings throughout the ages were appropriate for that specific period but nowadays things have changed so much that is difficult to come up with something that does not look alien to your culture. Hats is what most Penticostal churches practice for that reason but to me scarfs feel more of a biblical covering. :-)

    1. You pose a great question. Even for women who attend traditional types of churches (Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Orthodox) one can feel out of place if the other women of the parish do not cover. I think that in contemporary Protestant churches, though, a woman who covers is automatically associated with Amish/Mennonite believers, rather than with "old-school" traditional liturgical practice. You're definitely right that hats are the traditional choice for Protestants, and they are a great option. I agree with you though, for me, hats just don't feel like they fit the bill (in terms of my own devotional practice--not that of other women).

      The convertible headbands are a great choice when you are looking for something that does not look out of place.

      For example:

      At Cam's shop (the latter two listings) you'll find many more of this type of headcovering. You can also sometimes find headbands of this style in regular stores.

      Ultimately though, I imagine that each woman probably has the best intuition about what she will be comfortable with in her own setting and according to her own preferences. For those who feel called to cover, finding the means that works for the individual can be a hard row to hoe! Nonetheless, I think that the practice can be such a blessing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for leaving such a meaningful comment.

  16. Very interesting. I am not someone who veils in Church but have thought about the practice a lot. I am not sure if I am called to do so, but God has definitely made me intrigued about it. I think so many of the reasons you stated make sense, especially about keeping with 2000 plus years of Church tradition.


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