When I first believed that God might exist and Christianity might be true and started visiting churches in seriousness, one odd little thing was my reaction to the appearance of the congregations. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was always surprised at how casually people dressed to go to church. In particular, something about the women’s appearance seemed amiss, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was when I noticed an elderly lady at the back of a church one day who had her hair pulled back and her head covered with a black lace scarf that I realized what it was: it seemed to me that women should cover their heads in church. I didn’t really care or think it was wrong that most didn’t. But it just seemed, well, strange.
As an agnostic with no background in religion, I didn’t have any kind of theological defense for my feelings. I didn’t know what the Bible said about it, I didn’t know what the Magisterium of the Catholic Church said about it. It just felt like a good thing to do. I had only recently come to seriously consider the daunting prospect that the Creator of the known universe might actually exist and that we might be able to have some kind of contact with him by going to Sunday services, so going to church struck me as this amazing, kind of intimidating event. The idea of covering my head appealed to me as a symbol of humility, modesty, and as a way to embrace traditional femininity. It seemed like a little sacrifice I could make to show this God that I was really making an effort to respect him after my many years of disrespect; it also seemed like it would serve as a much-needed reminder to myself to approach the house of God with my pride in check.
As I got more used to going to church and slowly became a Christian, I decided to forget about the whole covering my head thing. No other women did it, and countless people whose opinions I greatly respected assured me that this is not something that’s required of women, and that God surely doesn’t care. This sounded right (and still does).
The problem is, I haven’t been able to get the issue out of my mind. I think about it a lot. In almost two years now of regularly going to church, I have never become completely comfortable with having my head uncovered. I don’t exactly “want” to cover my head…but not doing so just doesn’t feel right.
I’d been “prayerfully thinking” about this for months, trying to figure out whether the issue was nagging at me because God was trying to tell me something or whether it was just some personality quirk on my part. I made it known that I was more than willing to do this, but that I’d need a little nudging from God.
And then, a few months later, my mom came over one day and handed me a plastic ziplock bag and said, “Here are a couple of my old chapel veils, if you have any use for them.” They were her chapel veils from back when she went to Catholic school. Not being the clue-getting type, I promptly put them on a shelf in my closet and forgot about them.
Then, last week at the Red Mass, my husband chose a seat that had us sitting right behind a young lady wearing a chapel veil. After the Mass I struck up a conversation with her and she really encouraged me to consider wearing one. At the end of the evening as we were exchanging contact info, she reached into her purse and gave me a chapel veil as a gift.
So…the notion that I should cover my head at church has been nagging at me so much that I started praying about it, asking God what he wants me to do, and then two separate people give me head coverings — completely unprompted — within a few weeks of each other. Hmm.
I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m not trying to say here that I think that all women should do this — Christianity seems to be doing just fine with 99.9% of women going to church with their heads uncovered. But for whatever reason I feel prodded that it’s something I should be doing.
Maybe this is part of God’s plan to show the world his robust sense of humor. Because the notion of me wearing something that is often associated with extreme piety is hilarious. I can just picture some of my lovely fellow parishioners having a conversation like this as we’re all getting settled into the pews before Mass:
“Did I just hear someone say a really inappropriate word?”
“Yes, I believe it was the lady over there.”
“The tall redhead in the chapel veil who didn’t genuflect before dragging her screaming toddler out of the pews. I believe she’s the one who I saw just moving her lips last Sunday when she forgot the words to the Nicene Creed.”
It was in thinking about this that I realized that the main reason I don’t just go ahead and wear a scarf or a veil is (as usual): pride. I am so obviously not a holy person that I feel like it would look completely ridiculous for me to be the only woman in the congregation with her head covered; that people would think that I was some self-righteous snob; and that my actions at Mass might be watched a little more closely since I’d appear to be holding myself out as some kind of devout church-lady.
Who knows, maybe that’s the whole point of this situation. Maybe it’s not so much that God cares about me covering me head per se as it is that he’s testing me to see if I’m really willing to humble myself to obey what I believe is his will. Or maybe this is just all in my head and I have some weird hangup about having my head uncovered in church.
Anyway, I just wanted to share my little dilemma in case others find it interesting (or, more likely, amusing). I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet but I will keep you posted. 🙂
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