Monday, June 6, 2011

Headcovering: Preference or Calling? Part 2 (of 2)

In the last post I posed the question:

Is covering a "calling" or a "personal preference?"

You see, most of the women who I've met who cover, use phrases that involve the word "calling" in some way or another. And many of us have similar experiences where we feel as if the Holy Spirit is knocking us over the head with covering, when we're... less than enthusiastic... about the idea...

Here, in a nutshell (I hope!) is my own personal experience: About three and a half years ago I began to feel a small, constant, nagging tug in the back of my mind and it told me one thing... That I needed to cover my head when I was in the presence of God. The thought came unbidden. And I brushed it away. It reappeared. I thought of something else. It nagged at me. I turned up the music I was listening to and told the thought to shush.

The problem was that covering wasn't convenient. And what would people think? I was a recent convert. Would they think that I thought I was better than everyone else? No one in my parish covered. No one. I would stand out like a sore thumb.

I managed to ignore the insistent tug at my soul for an entire year. But it didn't go away. Or change. And finally I had to admit that it was wrong of me to ignore such an insistent and clear call in my life. So I began to learn about covering. I learned the history. I learned the reasons behind it (although it would be a while before I could articulate them myself). And I set a date, a good ways off, to begin covering.

I was sneaky in the beginning. I wore hats. I would wrap the chapel veil that Paul had given me around my head like a bandanna, so it would look quite so... "chapel veil-y"... I took to knitting beanies. Anything to help me hide or camouflage my covering.

Later I wore whatever was convenient. A chapel veil fit easily in my purse (and I do believe they are beautiful!). A snood kept baby hands at bay. And ultimately, my hats went away for the most part, because a particular toddler found that she had a passion for playing peek-a-boo with the brims of my favorite hats...

The tug that I feel to cover my head as a sign of respect for the most Blessed Sacrament has not ebbed in any way.

A handful of times over the past few years I have forgotten a cover and I feel naked and irreverent standing before God in that way. I know that doesn't make sense to many of you, but it does make sense for me. I am called to this personal devotion and I must obey this call.

If you feel called to cover, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. If you don't, you might think I've gone off my rocker.

A recent thread on a Catholic Forum that I was engaged in, included a heated conversation on this very topic. Some said that there was no such thing as a calling to cover, and that it was offensive to those who didn't feel such a calling to suggest that it existed.

I responded that God draws us in different ways. He knows what we need. He knows what's going to work. Feeling this calling doesn't make us special. It's just another way in which God is drawing us to Him and it's a way that, for whatever reason, some of us are called to respond to Him in.

And frankly, it's hard not to be offended when someone says, in no uncertain terms, "There is no such calling." Because in saying that, you're basically saying that we're just crazy and imagining this call from God.

So that's what sets it apart in my mind from a "preference." I may prefer to wear dresses rather than pants. I may prefer red to blue.

But I am called by God to honor Him in this way. And the difference between these two ways of looking at covering is vast.

Thus to those of us who cover it is quite a "big deal." That's why it's heartbreaking to those who are refused the opportunity to answer this call. And that's why it's more than just a "little piece of cloth" to some of us.

So try to keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, "there are more things in heaven and earth... than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

And I'd love to hear other answers to the initial question (even if you disagree with me!).

Paul just pointed out that when I read him this post, that many people use the same language to explain and justify certain sins (that thought never occurred to me as I was writing this post). And my response is this: The difference is in the action itself. One action that was brought up is repeatedly and specifically forbidden Biblically. The other is encouraged Biblically and is a (little t) tradition that lasted centuries in the Church.

Evil often co-opts the language of what is good, and gives it a little twist, in order to convince people that they are in fact doing the right thing. But if we fall back on the teachings of Christ and His Church we will not be led astray in these matters. That's why He gave Peter the keys after all. So that we would know what was true and what was not.


  1. :-D You said it very well here.

  2. I like what you're saying. Sometimes it's hard to articulate exactly why it's essential for me to be covering at Liturgy when it obviously isn't Essential for all women - the Church doesn't require it anymore, but God requires it of me, and in part because I made a Decision to do it for Him. For me to decide that, while I'm certainly called to cover at most liturgies, it's ok not to if it's not comfortable, is me neglecting my particular devotion to God, which He's planted and encouraged in me.

    I've rarely had any negative comments about covering, and the positive comments have come from such surprising people: my feminist sister, non-catholic girls, old men who "remember when," and passing construction workers..they're always so respectful, and enthusiastic, and never fail to make me smile.

  3. I have begun wearing scarves both at mass and I'd say about 75% of most days (I only have two and they're hand wash only, so if they're both dirty, then I'm without one). I began doing this just a few weeks ago, because there was, like Cam said, a tugging in the back of my head that said, "It's okay, do it." I like the idea of wearing something on my head most days because it helps to remind me of who I am in relationship to God, and to pray in that way. Incorporating prayer life into a very busy household, where previously everyone was gone during the day (because I worked, too) has been difficult and I often forget.

    One thing I've noticed, is that it seems people are just generally more genial and I can't help but wonder if they think I'm a cancer survivor or something and therefore I need the extra attention and sympathies. Has anyone else come across this and wondered? No one has said anything to me, but I would imagine they'd be afraid to.

  4. I guess the answer could be "both". Is that a cop out? lol! God could lead us in certain ways to glorify Him more perfectly and we really like those ways but it wouldn't be a sin not to follow since it's no longer a Church law. He could be asking it of us but it would not affect our salvation. Maybe that is where people get confused. I mean if we use the word "calling" it gets very emotionally complicated. An example of this is when homeschoolers claim to be "called" to homeschool. I tend not to use the word even though I believe God asks it of my family. We used our intellect and formed faith set to prayer to reach a decision but never had any great spiritual epiphany. It was a decision made under God's direction. I don't use the word "called" because I think it confuses others and makes non-homeschoolers feel defensive (it implies that they were either not called or missed their call!) and I don't want to do that. So maybe a lot of division simply lies in linguistic emphasis. I don't know.

    At any rate, I love reading these kinds of exchanges and have had a bit of fun hopping around your posts and the related comments. It's a beautiful thing to see so much variety in the church! I've really been challenged this past year to evaluate my approach to the way I view fashion and the like. Since the church doesn't give us definitive guidelines for what kinds of clothes to wear, I guess it's a case of ongoing discernment for women. I see other Catholic moms in my community going through changes and then changing back again with a pregnancy or new baby. Hemlines and sleeve lines and headcoverings all come and go with a bit of ebb and flow. It is good to continue reading and being challenged by these discussions. I think that someday I will wear a mantilla (and of course I will if I ever attend Mass in the extraordinary form). It appeals to me in a number of ways but it is not time yet.

    Anyway, I hope you don't mind that I linked to this discussion on my most recent blog post. It's not really about headcoverings but I wrote about some fashion changes I've been making on a daily basis and the topic is relevant in a general way. God bless you!

  5. I know what you mean. I feel a little call to dress more modest and feminine but my husband and co workers make this hard for me. I LOVE your snoods and hope to buy one when I can afford it. I think they would be wonderful just for wearing like a hat. I think you look beautiful in them.

  6. I've commented before (anonymously) with the same opinion I'm going to put forth here:

    I think the trouble with this whole debate (aside from its getting caught up in the modesty wars which are a bit of a different beast) is the language used to describe head covering.

    I think, as I've said before, that it muddies the waters (and is not accurate) to use the language of vocation (i.e. "calling") to describe a personal devotion or practice.

    I would say that head covering is a *devotion* (or practice) to which many people are *attracted.* In your case, you were so attracted as to find it hard to *not* practice this particular devotion.

    I think it is absolutely normal for different people to be attracted to different devotions and that such an attraction is something more than a "personal preference." It's more like a spiritual craving - a result of our unique spiritual makeup.

    But I think inaccurately using the word "calling," which implies vocation- which is God's plan and purpose for our lives that we ignore to our detriment- to describe a personal devotion makes the conversation about head covering unnecessarily contentious.

    People who are not attracted to this devotion react to the implications of the word "calling" and then the fireworks begin...

    Just my repetitive two cents.

  7. Alicia- Thank you! Your comment is very sweet!

    Melody- Your answer is great and I've noticed the same thing. As my life has changed my hem line has gone up and down (below a certain level) and what I tolerate in my own wardrobe ebbs and flows! I'll definitely check out your post too (and always appreciate links from your site!).

    Thanks MK! I was hoping to express what a lot of us experience as well as I could!

    Masha and Bethany- You both gave great descriptions of the experience of being called to cover!

  8. Hi Anonymous-

    (I just had to edit this and repost it because the typos were driving me crazy).

    The main difference between an "attraction" and a calling is that one is internal and one is external. It would be incorrect to say that I was "attracted" to the idea of covering because I wasn't. I was repelled by the idea. I strongly disliked it. But the tug, which was very clearly from something outside of me (I'm sorry because it doesn't sound like you like this sort of description but it is in fact how many women experience this particular draw to this devotion) drew me and I believed and still believe that it would have been wrong for me to resist it.

    So I'll have to disagree that the word "calling" is inaccurate and I think that often the "implications" (that others feel insulted by some women being "called" to this particular devotion while they do not feel the same tug) are a reaction of pride (Why aren't I called?!?! Because God reaches us in different ways!).

    Think about it: We're not all called to everyone vocation. We're not all called to every devotion. We aren't called to every path in life. But sometimes we are called by God to do things that are in addition to our vocations. We can say yes or no. But the calling is still there.

    "Calling" doesn't describe the practice. It describes how many of us come to it.

    I believe that it is an unfortunately unnecessarily contentious subject. And that does come from both sides. But I don't think it's a result of the expression of being "called." Because it's quite easy to see that we are called to serve God (in our vocations and beyond our vocations) in different ways.

    So do not limit the ways in which God can communicate to each one of us to our vocations, and act as if it is the only communication we will receive in our entire lives... because the reality is that that often isn't the case.

    Our lives are a conversation with God (some say "No!" more than others! And I definitely fall into that category far too often). If we listen, we can sometimes hear and feel his responses in our lives.

  9. I think you misunderstand me. I think that it is important to be precise in speech.

    A private devotion, practice or prayer is simply not of the same gravity as one's vocation in life. This is not a matter of pride, but a matter of fact and of Church teaching (although, not I think, magisterial teaching per se - I'm willing to be corrected if I'm wrong on that.)

    (Here I'm going to stick with my word "attraction", because the distinction between vocation and practices does exist and must be maintained- and "attraction" the most accurate word I have - even if you object to it.)

    Because there is a distinction between these two things: private devotions and prayers and vocation in life, we must assume that God does not "view" them in the same way.

    We are (I believe) gravely obliged to discern and live up to our vocation. We are *not* gravely obliged to perform any particular devotions (n.b. sacraments are not devotions.)
    This is the Church's teaching.

    I think it behooves, not because of pride, but to maintain a legitimate and important distinction, to distinguish not only in the names we give these things (as the Church) does: that is "vocation" and "devotion," but also in the words we use to describe God's communication to us, so that we do not lose that important distinction.

    God does not, in fact, "call" us to pray the Memorare, have a devotion to the Infant of Prague, or cover our heads. He *does* call us to motherhood, to consecrated life, to the priesthood (if male) etc.

    Respectfully, keeping the distinction between things that are gravely important and things that are not by using appropriate (and I'm using "grave" in the theological sense here) is not "pride", but prudence and can (I think - it would be interesting to try it) keep unnecessary discord out of these conversations.

  10. (Still the same anonymous here) Lest I come off as precise for the sake of precise or critical...

    I'm not attempting to "limit the ways in which God can communicate to each one of us" or anything like that.

    I'm simply saying that I think that some care taken to be *precise* when speaking of this subject would by pass a lot of the contention. I believe this subject (and others too) is so contentious because people do not make these distinctions and then misunderstandings and controversy disrupt a conversation which would otherwise be fruitful.

    (In fact, because the Church in the US has suffered from the decay of its small "t" traditions and there so much bad catechesis (from both the "left" and the "right") going around, there seems to be an awful lot of confusion about what is grave and what is not, what is essential and what is not, etc. )

  11. I'm sure you aren't surprised, Anonymous, that I disagree, pretty much entirely with both of your comments. Precision is important. And it seems that you are missing the fact that no one is denying that there is a difference between our Vocations as we are called by God and a "calling" to a particular devotion. One is our Vocation (yes the root of vocation is calling and it is who we are in fact called to serve in life) and the other is a way in which God speaks to are hearts on a less grand scale. Neither is theologically incorrect nor our they in conflict.

    We CAN be called by God to different devotions. He speaks to us, not only in grand ways, as you seem to suggest with your demand that we only use words and all variations of certain words in grand ways (as in "vocation" and "calling") but in small, everyday ways. He calls us to Him constantly.

    I don't think the Church would disagree with me (maybe I can have my in house Theologian clarify, but be assured that I have passed everything I've written by him so as not to lead anyone astray).

    We aren't obliged to practiced certain devotions because of Church teachings But we are obliged to follow our consciences if they are well formed. And if we are called by God to a devotion, and our consciences are well formed and the calling is in line with Church teachings and Church encouraged practice than I would be hesitant to avoid such a call. I would feel that I was going against God's will for me. And that's not a line I would cross intentionally.

    I HAVE NEVER SAID THAT COVERING ONES HEAD IS ON THE SAME LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE AS ONE'S VOCATION. I've said that over and over again and I'm capitalizing it because I feel your ignoring that I've admitted that in every response and post. You act as if that is my intention and my claim. It is not.

    But I deny that it's imprecise to use the word calling or that it in any way undermines our devotion. That is your opinion. Most of the women here who have spoken of their call to cover do no agree with it.

    Your not going to convince me of your point, because I don't believe your argument is valid. Sorry. I think we'll agree to disagree on this one.

  12. Bethany - I think I've noticed a certain curiosity in people when I wear a scarf in public. I've gotten the "Are you Amish" comment as well as the "well that's quite a cultural dress you're wearing" from a cashier (I happened to be wearing a dress, my scarf, and some favorite Indian jewelry! What a mish mosh of cultures!)

  13. Hi.
    Thanks for your reply,but i still don't really understand what is mean by the words "tugging on heart" and "calling".

    I'm not meaning this to refer to you,but how do people know they arn't being decieved by this as i've heard different type of people use these words-eg:women who felt they were called to be priests,pentacostal pastors,charismatic types etc...and they can't all be right as they all teach/say/do different things and if there is only one Holy Spirit then how can people be called to different different-and sometimes contradictory-things?
    TO be honest,i'd be scared of having this feeling of a'tugging' because how could i really know that it wasn't some mental/emtional/spiritual deception?

  14. Cam -
    I agree with you that the Lord calls to us in many ways; not just a one-time call to a vocation. I was called home to the Catholic Church. I was called to homeschool my children. I was called to wear modest and feminine clothing (definitely not just a preference). I was called to headcover at mass. (As a funny aside, I had to send in my mantilla for repair recently and on Sunday I couldn't find my beret that I had been using as a substitute. I started fretting about having a bare head, when all of a sudden I was compelled to check the mailbox. There was my mantilla! Perfectly repaired. And my daughter's brand-new mantilla was in the same package. I was overjoyed and so thankful that I have recently become more receptive to the Lord's leadings, in big ways and little ways.)
    Also, Anonymous has referred to headcovering as a private devotion, which it is not. Headcovering is not private at all. To the contrary, it is a discipline which is performed in full view of the parish.
    On the other hand, the Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel IS a private devotion. And I think "attraction" is a perfect word to describe my feelings of being drawn to it. Similarly, I have experienced an increasing attraction to praying the Rosary more frequently.
    For someone who has experienced no call to headcover, it might be difficult to understand. Perhaps it would be easier for people to understand if they keep their objections to themselves so that they can listen to the people who actually HAVE experienced such a call to cover. After all, experience trumps speculation anyday!
    God bless you Cam!

  15. Hi Randi- Thank you for sharing your insight and experience! God Bless!

  16. Hi Curious-

    We can discern where such a call comes from in two ways. Firstly by examining whether it is encouraged or forbidden in sacred scripture and by tradition. Headcovering is encouraged in both pleases. Female ordination is not possible by either of these tests. You could use this test on pretty much any impulse that is felt in this way. What does the Church teach? Thus we eliminate the possibility of contradiction.

    The second test would be the outcome. If it's not forbidden (and in this case is in fact encouraged) does the practice ultimately help us grow and draw us nearer to God. Most women who feel called to cover answer overwhelmingly, even when it's not the popular thing to do, that it does.

    As for charismatics in other branches of Christianity, I have always been uncomfortable around charismatics from any part of Christianity... but Saint Paul does make it pretty clear that they do exist AND the Church has taught that while the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, it is not the only means by which God works in the world. The Holy Spirit may well be found in a charismatic pastor at another Church who is leading others to find Christ. Unfortunately he doesn't have the fullness of truth that the Church has, but he certainly can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    The devil usually doesn't tempt us by having us honor the most Blessed Sacrament.

    We should not live in fear overly much knowing that we have a loving father in God and the guidance of the apostolic Catholic Church guiding us.

    I hope this helps your understand! I'm not sure I can give any additional description of what it feels like beyond what I've already given that would help you understand the actual sensation.

    God Bless!

  17. Dear Cam,

    This is anonymous again. You *thoroughly* misunderstand me. You couldn't do so more thoroughly.

    I know (and never claimed otherwise, if you read my comments through) that you maintain the distinction between vocation and devotion.

    My point is, if you don't make that distinction clear in speech through the words you use (i.e. if you don't distinguish between God's communication on grave matters and God's communication on smaller matters) then the distinction gets lost and the conversation gets contentious.

    My position is, if you believe in this distinction, your speech must reflect that.

    I am sure you will still disagree, but you were so thoroughly misunderstanding me that I had to clarify.

    Precision in speech is paramount in spiritual and theological matters if one is to discuss without confusion and contention.

  18. Anonymous-

    I've read each of your comments thoroughly.

    If I used the word "vocation" even a single time than you would be correct. However, using the word "calling" can hardly be called "confusing." The majority of lay Catholics likely couldn't tell you that the root of Vocation is "vocare" and that that means "to call." They know that "vocation" means being called to religious life or marriage, but frankly, the words are hardly identical in use and few could tell you the Latin root. A person who does understand that vocations root is "to call" could easily understand the difference in use.

    Our vocations are who we are called to serve. I don't think anyone is going to think we're "called to serve" a veil. Sorry. I think it's abundantly clear. Your nitpicking, trying to make an argument that doesn't exist.

  19. Dear Cam,

    I think verbs matter just as much as nouns. So the verb "call" matters just as much as the noun "vocation."

    You may call that "nitpicking" but in theological and spiritual subjects words *really* matter.

    This is why we have very strict theological formulations for important spiritual realities and we don't use those formulations for other realities, so as to keep matters clear.

    I believe that vocation (or "calling" as is more commonly used in English) is a very important spiritual reality. (And one surrounding which there is an awful lot of confusion in the Church today - witness the "single vocation" confusion...)

    But I think it is best to leave the conversation there....

  20. Hi Anonymous-

    Words do matter. But your argument just doesn't hold water. I'm not saying that words don't matter. I'm saying that using "calling" in no way infringes on the importance of vocation and isn't really confusing to anyone.

    Vocation is also an english word (although its root is latin, as with many english words) and it is a specific, important type of calling.

    Words to matter very much. But, quite simply, vocation is specific enough that no one should be confused. Should I not say that I'm "calling" my daughter in from the yard because those who hear me saying that might be confused that I'm telling her what God is saying to do with her life? The idea is absurd. "Calling" can be used in different ways and the context is clear.

    I don't think anyone, theologian or otherwise, would be confused.

    The matter is clear. I don't think your argument has convinced anyone (anyone can feel free to say they're convinced?) because the words are clear in and of themselves. They do matter. And they work independent of each other in their own way. Perhaps you should leave the conversation here because repeating an flawed argument over and over again, isn't going to convince anyone with even the tiniest history of studying theology. Sorry. It's just not going to.

  21. Dear Cam,

    I have a tiny history of study theology.

  22. Anonymous-

    I don't doubt that in the least.

    So do I. But since my history is humble I also pass my posts and comments by those who have a far greater understanding. Thus I know I am at least not heretical or in conflict with the magesterium (as an earlier post alluded to... hopefully that wasn't you... I know there are at least two anonymous posters I've been discussing this with).

    I think Katherine said it beautifully on one of the other posts when she said that it is a "call within a call."

    It would be inaccurate to use a word other than calling to describe what many of us feel. That is why it is so frequently used.

    And I know, we will have to agree to disagree.

  23. I haven't read the comments, just the post. I know what you mean, feeling called to cover. I always think of God telling Moses to take his shoes of in His presence. I feel that covering the head before God is such an ancient practice, why suddenly now is it wrong?

  24. Dear Cam,

    This is the same "Anonymous" from above. (I've been away for a bit - real life keeps interfering with my internet time!)

    I just wanted to say:

    Good gracious! I did NOT accuse you of heresy (for crying out loud.) I brought up the magisterium only to explain my own understanding and head off any misunderstandings. (That was clearly the wrong strategy.)

    I really hate to repeat myself, but I don't want it "on the record" that I am accusing you of heresy. I did no such thing- my position is: in order to have a peaceful, fruitful conversation about headcovering, we have to keep some important distinctions clear by using accurate speech. (You and I disagree on what is accurate speech.)

    (Total aside, for Randi above, the words "private devotion" in the language of the Church, mean any prayer or pious practice that is not an integral part (ie. in the rubrics or words of the prayers) of our liturgy (which includes the Divine Office) or *public* worship to God. Hence I refered to headcovering as a private devotion.)

  25. (Anonymous again)

    Just wanted to add that I'm sorry you got the impression that I was accusing you of heresy.

    I was so shocked to read that (still am, after having carefully re-read my comments) that I forgot to say that.


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