A woman wearing a mantilla, a Christian headcovering.
When I was working on a story recently about France's crackdown on conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, I stumbled upon some interesting blogs and articles written by Christian women who cover their hair for religious reasons.
This is nothing new to me. I grew up belonging to a conservative Pentecostal church, and modesty was crucial. Although it was never explicitly stated women should cover their head when they attended worship, many did with big, beautiful hats. The teaching comes from Paul's writings in I Corinthians 11:
"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."
Our church often had joint/fellowship services with other congregations, and I remember women and girls having a piece of lace fabric pinned onto their hair. I recall thinking it was both strange and beautiful.
In college, I visited my best friend Giddel's Christian Brethren church where nearly all of the women wore what I use to describe as "the big doily things" since they looked like the doilies both of my Grandmothers displayed on their antique wood furniture. Some had them pinned right on to the crown of their heads, but Giddel's mother Ronnie, had a much more beautiful one. It was long and elegant, and could easily double as a shawl. I would later learn the proper name- "mantilla". I knew most chicks my age would laugh at the prospect of wearing something on their head because of the "angels" and all out scoff at that "authority" part altogether. Yet for some reason, Ronnie, and Giddel, and our friend Martha (also in her 20's), looked nothing short of beautiful to me.
Most Christian women no longer follow the practice of covering their heads (well, except for in cold or inclement weather) for a few reasons. First, the practice fell out of practice post Vatican II in Roman Catholicism, the largest Christian church. Over on the Protestant side of the cross, with the rise of nondenominational/evangelical churches and the modernization of mainline churches, women tossed the scarves and hats, too. Nowadays, most women only wear them for fashion, if at all. Even within some of the more conservative churches, many women take the above passage to mean their hair is their actual covering, so they don't or hardly ever cut their hair.
Many Christians take the passage above to be a cultural prescript to the Corinthians of that day. After all, many men wear long hair today, and many women, short. Since in many societies there is no shame to this, then the admonishment to cover is not for today. I've seen some women pull up a scarf or shawl at church ONLY during prayer, reading a Scripture or maybe even Communion, only to yank it down the minute she steps out of the sanctuary.
However, the blogs I found, like Free To Cover, written by a married, Orthodox mom named Alana, are advocating a return to the traditional. Not just to cover at church, either, but full time. She writes:
"You say that wearing a headcovering is a form of bondage?
I say it is an expression of my freedom in Christ.
You say that it oppresses women.
I say that it reminds me of the stole draped over my head when receiving the prayer of absolution after making confession.
You say that it is only "cultural" and does not apply to today.
I say, neither does turning the other cheek make sense in our culture. Neither does "blessed are the poor in spirit". Neither does "blessed are the meek".
You say your head is your own.
I say that I gave my head to Christ.
You say your hair is your glory and your covering.
I say that I can neither make my hair, make it grow, or keep it from falling out. Only my creator can do that.
The only things I can do with my hair are let it grow, cut it off, color it, or cover it. I have done all these things. But now I cover it.
What does it mean, "on account of the angels"? Oh, to serve God with the purity of an angel!
For whatever reason, this will not leave me alone.
I do not belong to myself..."
Still, other young Christian women are embracing the veil, too- at least while worshiping. Cordelia, writing for Catholic Phoenix chimed in:
"Growing up in the diocese of Phoenix, I never thought I would see the day when chapel veils would resurface, especially during a liturgical procession...
Even though we don’t have to wear the mantilla anymore, I’ve noticed that some women want to. Depending upon which parish you are at, you may see one or several ladies graced in lace at a regular Sunday morning mass. The ladies I have seen are mostly under forty. I bet some of you reading this post are guilty of being veil-curious, and maybe even own one, buried in the back of your sock drawer.
Can it be that more women are unleashing their inner bride and donning the mantilla at mass?
For years I resisted the mantilla... maybe a hat, if anything. But eventually, about a year ago, I decided to “pin one on”—and I have not stopped wearing it since..."
What say you, Dear Readers? Do you think it's necessary? Even if you don't, how do you feel about those who do? Old fashioned? Strange? Nice? By the way, women within groups as diverse as the Jehovah's Witnesses to some Baptists all practice some form of head covering to different degrees.