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.
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.