Anyone who knows me knows that I have a fascination with head covering. I've done it, I've not done it. I go back and forth. It's this thing for me. My current practice is to wear a mantilla during Church and for formal prayers at home. I've done doilies, I've done scarves, I've done hats, I've done full time, part time, none at all...the whole gamut.
But one place where I draw the line: looking like something I"m not. And because of that need, to fit into my own particular genre of Christianity, I've shied away from wearing Mennonite bonnets, doilies (since becoming Orthodox) or Hijab. I also don't want to look like a monastic wannabe. That was a thought that struck me really strongly when I visited the monastery at the beginning of lent: I am not a nun, nor a wannabe, and there's always been a strong dividing line, in Orhtodoxy, between the monastics and regular laity, in the sense that we are still in the world, and they are not. Our journey is different. And as a person "in the world, but not of it" I still have to navigate issues like what to wear, or how to present myself...I don't get the "free ticket" of "death to the world" and a monastic uniform that the monastics have. My journey is different. Especially as a woman who is also someone's wife.
It's perfectly possible to find a whole slew of Early Church Fathers, commenting on the first half of 1 Corinthians 11 where one could make a good argument for wearing what constitutes full hijab (which I know people were wearing long before even Christianity came on the scene). But they were the bishops of their people, in that culture. And while their words and their teachings can certainly inform us, and should, we also can't take what was written so long ago and say "this is binding on me" if the current Bishops of the Orthodox Church (by "we" I mean if course, Orthodox Christian women) have not made this rule. Christian modesty rules are pretty clear, and to go above and beyond calling it a religious thing, when really it's just my personal preference, smacks of pride in my heart. Because part of being Orthodox is listening to our bishop and not just making my own personal, private religious pronouncements. Lest we set ourselves up as the judge and jury, and lest we also make a mountain out of a molehill on an issue that is potentially "small fry". (Scripture is scriptures and the traditional interpretation of it, in the context of worship is also abundantly clear, however, which is why I cover in Church. It's a fine line to walk, I guess.)
But is it really a "small fry" issue? Having a heart of purity and spirituality that is controlled by the Spirit of God and not the ways of this world is definitely not a "small" issue. And that is what it boils down to. And what is in one's heart must certainly (and will) make itself known in the choices a woman (or a man) makes in all areas of life, including dress and deportment. Including a head covering.
And then there's the issue of identity. I sort of did a big experiment this past year, and wore a scarf on my head full time. It was hard. I struggled. I loved it and hated it all at the same time. Ultimately, living with the inner conflict was something I decided I couldn't do. I never really felt good about it, or peaceful one way or another. Because of that, I think it's safe to say this might be something I revisit again and again over the years, as the future unfolds. But I doubt I'll ever be 100% sold out on full time head covering the way some are. (I wish I weren't so complicated.)
But while wearing a head covering this past year, I also moved into a new community. I changed jurisdictions and started attending an Orthodox Church that traces it's identity back to the that street in Damascus called Straight, where St. Paul was taken after he was struck blind. Yes indeed. The leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Damascus still resides on that same street. Now there's some history for ya!
And this has given me pause. I'm part of a community, and I need to listen to what my sisters and my brothers in that community have done and said over the centuries. While it may be true that Christian women have been wearing hijab type veiling for a lot longer than Islam has ever been around (as in "we did it first") there's also never been a consensus that this middle eastern style of covering is mandated by Scripture for Christians. The apostles weren't specific on it. In fact it is my understanding that historically, Christian women in the middle east, living in an Islamic context, have typically expressed their Christian identity by NOT wearing a scarf outside of Church, it seems. Sort of an "us" and "them" thing. I could be wrong. This could be a 20th century development like so much else pertaining to this topic. I just don't know.
So part of embracing humility and learning to be a part of my new community has been taking a step back from wearing a full time head covering, to start to learn to listen, with an open heart, to the traditions (small t) of the community of which I'm a part.
Because if nothing else, I've learned over the years that the Orthodox Christian journey is never done alone, but always in the context of the Eucharistic community of the Church.
Now, the other day I was at Walmart with my husband. He was wearing a collared shirt and slacks, as usual, and I had thrown a skirt over my leggings and t-shirt that I'd worked out in, and my hair was up in a little bun. A pentecostal man stopped us and asked us which church we went to. Clearly he thought we were pentecostal, based on our dress. He must not have notices the crucifix. Just goes to show, you can't always not look like some other religion...but one can try.