Tuesday, 15 March 2011

More on hair

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about hair and the Bible in the last few days, working with all those wonderful and helpful comments y’all sent me, and with a few particular scriptures, which I’ll set out here (some repetition from previous post):

1 Cor 11:5
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head

1 Cor 11:15
But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

1 Cor 11:16
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

Romans 1:19-20
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…

OK – got those?

I have been studying and thinking, and here are the thoughts I have drawn together.  I am not working from a Quaker approach, but from a Conservative Evangelical approach here.  This is not because I don’t understand the Quaker approach of following the inner leading of the Light, but because the Conservative Evangelical approach of working with proof texts creates more scruples for the disciple, and there are Evangelicals as well as Quakers and others who read the posts here.

The Corinthians teaching links with the wider New Testament teaching about gender roles and submission, for example in Titus 2:3-5, in Ephesians 5 and one or two other places.  But each passage has its own emphasis – so the Titus verses look at women in the setting of home and family, Ephesians 5 looks at the relationship of humility and love charactising Christian marriage, and the Corinthians verses on head-covering are about the scenario of public worship.  This should be born in mind when applying the teaching.
The question of gender roles and feminine submission is well addressed here by Francis Clare Fischer; this Friend speaks my mind and I witness also to the experience she describes.
But as to the headcovering, I will set out here what I have concluded – for the time being at least!

The Corinthians teaching addresses the context of public worship, and requires that women go to worship with covered head.  It does not say covered hair, it says covered head.  The hair is described as a mantle/shawl/covering, and is not unseemly to be revealed, but the head is to be covered.  If a Christian lady wished for modesty and personal preference to bind up her hair and keep it hidden away for only her husband to see, that is a gentle and modest tradition, but it is not a requirement of the New Testament community of faith, even taking the strictest and most literal reading of the Bible.

But I see no teaching that requires a lady to cover her head at home.  Again, if her tradition and preference encourage her to do so, well and good – but that is not what the Corinthians teaching is intending to address.

Many ladies feel that ‘every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head’ encourages them to wear a head-covering all the time, including at night, lest at any moment in the day or night they feel led to prophesy or pray.  But I think that is a misunderstanding of the text – Paul is talking about a public worship scenario.

When I am looking for truth, I look into the Bible, but I also look into what Nature teaches me.  That’s why I included the references to Romans 1 and to Job 38 & 39, which are two of the places in the Bible that show us how Nature is wise and obedient to God, and also glorifying to God and depending faithfully on His every word.
So I look at the question of whether a woman is to have her head covered, and I see that in Nature her head is not covered.  When a baby girl makes her passage into this world, sent here by the living God, her soul is leaning upon Him, surely crying out to Him to lead and keep her safe – but her head is not covered.  That comes later, when she is drawn into the community of the church.  But her relationship with God starts before she was even born.

I cannot believe that there can be a situation where a woman cannot commune with God, who is her breath and life (for without the breath of the Holy Spirit she would not even be a living being but a mere heap of dust) unless she has the addition of a manufactured object, a cloth.  That can’t be correct, and it doesn’t fit with the other scriptures about the wisdom of nature and the babe held in the gaze of God in the mother’s womb.
Something I have noticed in covering my head all the time is that where my hair is golden towards the end, it is brown near the roots.  I thought it was just where it is going grey, but I think now it is where the sunlight has been kept away.  Sunlight is an important food for us (especially for us vegans), and the sun affects the pineal gland in the crown of the head, making endocrine changes in the spring after the long dark of the winter.  This affects mood and cheerfulness.  So I think it is important in nature for the sun to shine on the top of my head some of the time.

So the conclusion I draw is that what is meant is that when women participate in the gathering of the people of God, they cover their heads according to the scriptures, not because they cannot approach God without it, but because it is of significance in the decency of gender ordering – and a similar stricture is imposed on the men, that they will not cover and not wear such long hair, so in this both are departing from what happens naturally (in nature the hair of both men and women just grows, and is not covered up) in fulfilling church tradition as laid out here in scripture – Paul says himself that it is a matter of church tradition.

Outside the church – well, that is up to the lady herself, her faith community, her understanding with her husband.  I like to wear the covering because it reminds me constantly of an attitude of gentleness and humility that I ought to have as a servant of God and a representative of the faith of Jesus.  It is a witness.  So all along, I am wearing it for what it means to me and what it signals to others – it’s about the faith community and my place in it, not about my own intimate and private relationship with God.

These are the conclusions I have reached. What they mean for me gathers as follows – to wear the covering whenever I expect to go out and about, and also around the house because oh boy do I need reminding to be gentle and lowly of spirit around my family as well as out in public – I am sure they could testify to that!  But also to make sure I have some time each day, at least fifteen or twenty minutes, to let the sun shine on my head and feed my endocrine system; and to wear my hair unbound because that (for reasons I cannot explain) gives me strength.

Thinking of the same subject from a more Quakerly perspective, I should say that what I feel is a leading to dress modestly, simply, plainly, and cover my head as a personal reminder to lowliness, meekness and humility, and an aspect of our simplicity testimony.  In the practice of covering, the viewpoint as expressed by Francis Clare Fischer in the piece I linked to above has also crept up on me, and made a home in my heart.

As ever, your comments are welcome and helpful, friends – and not only the ones that agree with my thinking but also the ones that help me see what I may have missed.


Faithful Mama said...

I really love this post! I think you are very elegant and kind. You have great thoughts on this, and I'm so happy you shared! I love your picture, and I didn't know you were a vegan! :) I tried raw/vegan for a while, and it was very hard!! I commend you on that for sure! :) :) Once again, loved the post! --S

Ember said...

:0) waving!

Ganeida said...

Ember: I did a lot of reading when I was considering covering: when, how, what? Did my hair count? Chased back to the Greek & concluded we are asked to cover in public worship, for prayer & prophesy. I can be fairly careless so for me it was easier to discipline myself to just wear the thing constantly but by the end of the day my head is often irritated so I will remove my covering at home during the evening. However if I am called to pray or minister I always hunt a covering up & pop it on because it very much reminds me not to speak on my own authority, to listen for what God has to say, to remind myself I am an ambassador for Christ in whatever situation I find myself in. I often wear my hair long & out with a covering, which for me is very feminine, much more so than a skirt, but it is not usually very practical in the day to day running of my house & is dangerous around boat stays & shackles, hawsers etc.

Ember said...

Can I clarify - I am understanding thee to mean 'for public worship AND for (not public) prayer and prophecy' rather than 'for prayer and prophecy in the context of public worship'. Have I got thee right?

I agree that the constant reminder thing is very helpful indeed.

Ganeida said...

Indeed thee does have me right. ☺ One thing I should perhaps add, & it has personally been very helpful to me, is covering when writing, especially if I wish to discuss the scriptures at all. It makes a difference. Now idea how or why it should but it does ~ perhaps for the same reason we are asked to cover in other ways. ♥

Elin said...

I do not think covering is only for public prayer and so on. I believe it is for all prayers and prophetising even in the home. For me it done to glorify god but also to signal that I have this right to pray and prophetize. I do not see that god thinks any less of me for being a woman but unfortunately the world often does. By wearing my covering I have accepted god's plan for me and I honor god this way. With that being said I do not cover all night and yes I sometimes pray uncovered but I do not see that as something big that god will punish me for.

joanie said...

I respect the fact many women are not going to agree on how and when to wear it etc... but I wanted to touch on a couple of things I encountered over the years that really disturbed me. Well, it seemed that some women forgot this hair was a glory and though many said it was for their husband's eyes they not only did not care for their hair they hardly ever showed it to him. I know some who never take their hair down except to wash it - not even to go to bed - and they put it right back up in a bun wet. I know a few who have developed skin disorders on the scalp from putting it up wet and I think the other scalp issues stemmed from it being up so much they began to have thinning. Still others who have chopped their hair in all kinds of crazy ways to make it look right under a particular covering that is see throughish. One even shorn it all off around a bit long enough to put into a little bun. They all wear their buns tiny, perfect, with Amish pins sticking out visibly from the bun as if on a clock at noon, 3, 6, and 9. I winced as I watched my friend preparing to excessively thin out her daughter's beautiful thick and wavy hair, so it would make a smaller bun. In another friend's home when one of the young females comes through without the covering it causes an uproar and the parents recoil as if horrified by the sight of it. Comments abound about the long hair being unsightly and like it is horrifying to look at. I guess my eyes are sick, but I love hair and I enjoy all the different types of hair. To be fair their are lots of women in the US who hate long hair and wear it so short it looks shaved. Older women a lot. Something about my mother's generation - I don't know, but I can't tell you how many women with butchered hair told me - when i was a kid - how they hated my thick long hair and wanted to chop it off! I just couldn't understand it! Still don't. But with the plain women hacking their hair up, not appreciating it or caring for it ( not ALL, I know!! but it is more common than it seems.)I began to feel that this was as much of a sin as not covering at all. It seemed rather an insult to God, who gave us this glory. I have always worn my down for much of the day if I am home to stay. If I go out I just throw one on over my hair, but my hair is very long and it flows out of the covering. Like yours, mine is very blonde on the bottom parts too, same reason- it bleaches out in the yard. So, my point is that some plain women tend to see hair as something not all a gift from God and the covering rises to the position of an idol. It tends to be in organized groups where ideas turn into practices more easily.


Stealth Jew said...

Jews cover all our hair after marriage, which does make it dark.

I can't imagine wearing my hair long and loose though. My mum would just freak. She thinks it's child-like or else naked. My daughter has never had a haircut, so she has ringlets halfway down her back. Her most noteworthy feature. Even as a small child we were taught not to come to school with our hair loose if it was shoulder-length or longer.

Ember said...

Hi Ladies :0)

Elin, I like what thee said there, 'By wearing my covering I have accepted God's plan for me'. That expresses something that is near the heart of it for me, too - an opening of my being to welcome and embrace God's way, and a relinquishment of mutiny against that; beyond gender roles, a submission, a gelassenheit, a yielding to the beautiful way of creation.

Ganeida, I'm very interested in that about the writing - the covering as a Thinking Cap :0)

Joanie, as always thee speaks such wisdom - thee speaks my mind. We have left the way of simplicity when we become obsessive and cultic about these things.

Hi Stealth Jew! Do the ladies in thy faith community cover just when they go out or at home too?

Tess said...

The only Christian women I know who regularly cover their hair are nuns at a community with which I'm connected. They wear the habit, including a veil covering their hair, when they go out and during the offices in chapel, but around the monastery, they wear plain casual clothes, usually trousers and a sweater or other top.
Other women I know who cover are Muslims, and orthodox Jews, whose practices of when to cover vary.
Personally, I'm not at all sure about women and head covering. Although I respect the choice, it's such a highly symbolic act it worries be because of the echoes of oppression - the "woman as bad, as temptress" model of the patriarchal church.
Since the practice of head covering in the Catholic church (in which I was raised) died out for women around the 1960s, it's never occurred to me to cover, in church or elsewhere.
So I guess this is a long way of saying I have very mixed feelings about this, it makes me uneasy, but I'm also interested and glad you're discussing it.

Ember said...

Hi Tess
Forgive me if thee already followed this link and read the piece, but I found this piece by Francis Clare Fischer very helpful:


The adjustment in thinking for us in an age educated by the thought track of feminism is hard for us to make. From a Quaker perspective, it's not so much about patriarchal attitudes, which would run counter to our Equality Testimony, but about a yieldedness of spirit - 'tenderness', as Friends say - that makes our approach to one another humble and trusting; man to woman as well as woman to man.

Tess said...

Ember, thanks for your response to your comment, I appreciate it. All very interesting and lots of food for thought.