Beauty, Plain

If you are looking at this blog it is apparent to you that I am a Plain woman. This has nothing to do with standards of beauty. I dress in simple, layered, monochromatic clothes, my hair is long, uncut, and pinned up, and I wear an unadorned white cotton bonnet called a prayer cap. You won’t see my legs, and my feet are ensconced in ankle high boots. It’s about as unsexy as I can get.

My husband, Nicholas, was watching television last night. (We were watching “Canada’s Worst Handyman,” a competition to see if five very untrained people can learn basic home maintenance skills. Some can, some can’t. I’ve learned some things myself.) A commercial for the Olympics in Vancouver came on the screen. “She looks like you!” Nicholas says. “Who? Where?” I asked. “That one, the one with the dark hair.”

I could not see any resemblance between myself and a cartoon Olympiad in athletic clothing. “No, I don’t look like that.” He was getting a little frustrated with me. “Yes, like that.” “No, sweetie, maybe years ago…”

“That’s how I remember you,” he said, which was sad, since he lost some vision and some memories with the stroke.

“But I don’t look like that now,” I said. “I certainly wouldn’t look like that in those clothes. I’m just a middle-aged Plain woman now.”

“But that’s beautiful,” he said. “I think you are just as beautiful now as when you were an athlete.”

And, friends, it doesn’t get better than that. I’ve got a few extra pounds keeping me warm; the hair is decidedly streaked with silver; some days the knees, hips and feet ache, a legacy of that athletic past. Still, the most important man in my world doesn’t just tell me I’m beautiful. He knows it. He means it.

The slim, dark-haired, blue-eyed runner I once was may have been physically beautiful, but my spiritual beauty hadn’t fully emerged. Prayer, humility and some tough breaks in life have deepened that beauty, so that my partially blind husband can see me inside, not just the shell the world sees. That counts for more than anything.

I couldn’t have reached this point in my life with strength if I hadn’t chosen the Plain way. If my appearance and public approval of me had been more important than following my Lord, my conscience and my heart, I would have fallen away. If the mirror had held too much of my attention, I would have neglected more important things.

Plain is a gift from God. Don’t turn away from that gift when it is offered to you as a Christian. It improved my soul’s strength, and I believe it is a way of life that could strengthen our world.

Plain Living, future tense

Nicholas and I got rid of furniture about a year ago. We were moving around a lot, living in furnished situations, so there wasn’t much use in hauling about our beat-up stuff. And while we are in another furnished living environment, I’ve been thinking about what we will do when we move to our own house.

And I’m too old to sleep on the floor anymore.

I will scrounge most furniture – desks, tables, lamps, dressers. I can refinish wood and make it look almost new. I prefer older things of real wood, good simple lines and some presence in a room. However, my dust mite and mold allergies are so bad that I cannot risk used upholstered furniture, rugs and certainly not second-hand mattresses.

Although the furniture where we are living is exceptionally clean for its years of use, and the mattress we have on our bed is perfect, this is not always the case. I’ve spent miserable weeks, unable to sleep, because of breathing difficulties, headaches and even muscle spasms because of dust mite contamination in mattresses. Rugs and curtains are big culprits. Vacuuming and a spray with dilute hydrogen peroxide helps for a little while, but once those dust mites get into the textile, it’s near impossible to get them out.

So I am contemplating how much money we will have to save to buy furniture, and where we will get it.

So much modern furniture is made of plastic and PVC. I have a certain level of chemical sensitivities as well, and the all-natural stuff is so expensive! I think the mattress may have to fall into the natural category, but the living room furniture would cost as much as a new car if we went that route.

And there`s the issue of sustainability. How was it madeÉ What kind of materials were used in manufacturingÉ Was the wood sustainably harvestedÉ

I`ve looked at Ikea furniture online, and I like it. It has the plain style that is suitable for our life, and it is priced right. But my sister, who lived in Europe for years, calls Ikea `the Swedish Walmart.“ Are their manufacturing and shipping practices as ecologically sound as they implyÉ

What are others doing about thisÉ I don`t want to make a big decision like this without adequate information.

Anglicans, Covering, Hats and Tradition

Anglican women used to cover their heads in church. It wasn’t that long ago. My Baptist mother and her friends wore plain hats or scarves in church until the mid 1960s; many Anglican and Episcopal women did so until later.

I don’t really know why they stopped. Many look back with nostalgia and wistful remembrance. Others found it oppressive and vain. It was perhaps both, as well s a sign of obedience and humility for others.

There was no order or canon about covering. It was expected, a custom. Then Catholic women stopped covering after Vatican II, and one would think the Church of Rome had spoken for all. This was not the case.

The Protestant argument that a woman’s covering is her long hair and not a piece of fabric became prevalent. As I’ve said elsewhere, this was an error of interpretation. Paul did indeed mean that  a woman should wear her hair long and uncut, if possible, as representing the glory of God; the veil was her modesty and obedience, a symbol of headship under Christ. Women alone have that privilege. Men uncover before the altar; women have the benefit of glory, as Moses was veiled after descending from Mount Horeb, for the glory of God was reflected in him.

Anglican women are not released from this headship and this glory. I believe it would be better if we acknowledged our relationship to Christ in veiling, that is, in covering our heads before the altar. I wear a prayer cap; others wear a small veil or scarf or kerchief, which has the same effect.

If hats are worn in church, they should be simple cloth or knit caps of the skull cap, snood or cloche type, unornamented. A plain black or straw bonnet is acceptable, if a bit anachronistic if one is not Plain. The hat should match the style of clothes. Plain women wear Plain coverings; modern dress women should wear something modern but unpretentious. One’s church clothes, in fact, should be simpler rather than elaborate. The occasion is a solemn celebration, not a garden party or an evening gala. Colour is acceptable, but unnecessary frills and certainly anything that suggests a show of skin and figure is inappropriate. Church services are not a fashion show or an occasion for finding a boyfriend. (Don’t get me started on wedding attire.)

I used to wear hats to church, before I was Plain. Some of them may have been a little more decorative than necessary. A black straw cloche was a favourite, and matched a lot of my clothes. A navy blue brimmed hat, of vintage extraction, was simple but elegant. I had a summer white brimmed hat, pinned up on one side with a fabric flower. It may have been a little elaborate for an older woman, but perhaps was excusable when I was twenty-five.

Still, Sunday morning is not the Easter parade. (That’s an arcane reference some readers will have to look up.) A basic dress and a simple hat will do service for many years, provided they are in good repair. A short veil of the charity style is never wrong, even if people ask if you are a nun. (Yes, they will.)

It’s too bad that women rarely cover even in church. It makes Christian women look worldly, more concerned with their appearance than their piety. Vanity and immodesty are never at home in the church, or in the heart of a Christian.

Mothers should, at least, set a good example for daughters by wearing a modest dress or skirt, and this one day in the week insist that their daughters put on a skirt and modest blouse.  I see young women every year who have never had a skirt until they want to look grown-up for prom or a wedding. They walk like boys in their skirts, they are so unaccustomed to the proper way to hold their legs, arms and feet. Teenagers today are much too concerned about appearance and social status. They need some sort of break from all that, if they are ever to find themselves.

Equally, young women should learn to wear a headcovering at the appropriate time. There are cultures where a woman in tight jeans and with her head bare will cause problems, and if our daughters ever travel beyond our own borders, they should have some sense of what to do and why.

Just because the rest of the world decided it didn’t need rules doesn’t mean we are excused from following them.

Anglicans, Speak Up!

Anglican is not a bad word. It is not something of which we must be ashamed. It is not synonymous with “hide-bound traditionalist” or “woman-hating crotchety old man.”

But you wouldn’t know that from the blogosphere.

Surely I am not the only Anglican moderate out here.

(To a given value of moderate, I admit.)

Be humble but forthright about your Anglican faith. Don’t leave the ‘net wide open for crackpots, extremists, and afore-mentioned hide-bound types. Boldly and bravely put “Anglican” in your tags!


Because I can’t stand to read any more blog posts from Anglicans who bloody well should just go to Rome already. 

I have had all sorts of problems with the church, wandered around a bit looking for that greener pasture, and yet I still came home.

Remember the other side of the parable of the prodigal son: The older brother, the good one, got reprimanded for his unloving, exclusionary attitude. There’s no virtue in being holier-than-thou.

To any bishops who might be reading (there aren’t, I know, wishful thinking): I’m ready to get back to work. There’s a million sermons in my head, a tougher attitude than I’ve ever had, and a willingness to put my hand to the plow without looking back. I promise I won’t whine and complain, or try to run away again to some beguiling church. I’ve got a real-world education now that no seminary could teach.

Resume and references supplied upon request.

Soul and Suffering

Some people should not attempt to sing spiritual carols like “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” I’m an American, I lived in the South; no Christmas was finished until someone sang this as a solo, or a choir echoed it through an all-pews-filled church. It is a beautiful, beautiful hymn, written by people who had longed for freedom and peace. It has to be sung from the heart, or not at all.

Gospel hymns make it into hymnals for a couple of reasons. One is the perception that they are easy to sing. The other is that they are ethnically inclusive. The former is usually not true, because the notation of the hymn is untrue to the improvisation of the original, and the second is often condescending, removing something beautiful from its context and trying to make it universal.

To sing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” well means that the singers have to know the experience of waiting patiently, with sometimes just a glimmer of hope. The singers can’t be afraid of the song. They’ve got to be willing to rock it some, give it some soul, open up to its possibilities and improvisations. It needs to be sung a capella, without amplification, and with an audience who knows where it came from and why, at least somewhere in their hearts. Like many gospel hymns, it is deeper than its simple words and melody would suggest.

I love good gospel hymns, especially the old ones. They speak to the heart of freedom, love and joy. They speak of release from the sins of this world and the glory of the Lord’s world, living amongst us and yet to come. I love it when they are sung by a choir well-versed in the gospel ways, who have sung together for years, whose roots are in gospel and soul. These are the choirs that came up singing a capella because for years the churches couldn’t afford instruments. They trained each successive generation to use their voices like the parts of an orchestra. They make room for the Holy Spirit to enter and transform the singer and the listener.

That doesn’t have to be limited to gospel choirs. Every choir, every church musician could open their hearts to that possibility. Every preacher, every liturgist, every litanist, every listener could ask that Spirit to teach them of liberation, of simple joy, of hope, and of love.

Did You Believe in Santa?

I was raised in a Baptist family that did not teach about Santa bringing gifts. We knew about Santa, and thought it was fun, but my parents were careful to explain that he is pretend, while Jesus is real. So I grew up knowing the difference, and never had my childhood faith shaken by thinking my parents lied to me about one Christmas story, so they must be lying about the other one. (North Pole vs. Bethlehem.) What about others? Did the realization that Santa Claus does not exist (in a real, physical way) affect your belief in Jesus?

Winter Memories, Christmas Past

The three of us were talking about winter and Christmases of our childhoods. I am a rural child; the other two are urban/suburban. I am American; they are Canadian. Their strongest memories of Christmas involve Santa Claus and the Eaton’s department store windows. My Baptist, rural roots didn’t include these.

My parents did not teach us that Santa Claus brought Christmas toys. Santa Claus was a nice story to make children feel special at Christmas, but not real. We still had Christmas stockings, and a “Santa gift” that Mom didn’t want to wrap – usually the big gift, like a tricycle or dollhouse. I don’t know if my younger sisters believed in Santa; I cerainly didn’t, and never did. I remember my mother making it very clear to me, about the age of four, that Santa is a myth, not real like Jesus.

I think I enjoyed Christmas more bcause of it. I liked the Christmas pageant, the Nativity story, and I really loved other people’s creches, although we didn’t have one for a long time. (It was a serious theological issue in the Baptist Church those days – should we have any representations of Christ, or does that encourage idolatry?) The tree, the gifts and the seasonal music were part of a party atmosphere that broke up the dreary days of winter, but not as important as the whole mystery of the Incarnation. Well, I probably didn’t think of it that esoterically, but I had that sense even as a child.

Nicholas and Mother Kay were raised in secular families. Santa was the center of the celebration. They went to department stores to see Santa, and Kay remembers a video phone at one store from which children could talk to Santa. Christmas Eve was full of exciting anticipation, but there must have been many Christmas mornings of disappointment.

In this household, three priests and a small child sharing a roof and table, the two-year-old, Child Patience, brings us a renewed perspective. She knows about Santa (outside influences can’t be helped unless we all move to a strict Old-Order Amish community) but seems to think he is just a cartoon character; she hasn’t encountered a costumed Santa here. And while we have Christmas trees (one is an angel tree, her favourite) the house has several creches and no jolly old elves. She knows who Mary is, and the Baby; that guy Joseph is still not an important part of the story. We stop to look at the creches, and she identifies “Mirrym” and “Baby.” There is a photograph in the hall of a marble statue of Mary and the infant Jesus, and they have been a part of her life since she was herself a babe in arms.

Her Nana, Mother Kay, was talking to an old friend on the phone last week. As usual, Child Patience wanted to chat as well. After a few “hi’s” and giggles, she asked, “Who’s that?”, meaning the person on the other end of the conversation. “It’s Mary,” Nana answered. Child Patience was immediately impressed.”Mirrym!” she cried, pointing to the creche.

Who wants to tell her differently? Other children write letters to Santa, visit Santa at the mall, and may even e-mail him. Child Patience has talked to the Blessed Virgin on the telephone.