You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Friday, February 18, 2011

"You're doing what?": An answer to my mother's question

So, this is an odd thing for my mother especially because we grew up in the Presbyterian Church, which, for the most part, doesn't make a big deal about Lent. It exists, sure. And sure, you could do something if you wanted. But that's about it. I, however, became an Episcopalian a few years back and Episcopalians (especially if you're High Church like me) take Lent seriously. Very seriously.

Traditionally, people give up something like candy or caffeine or some other luxury food for Lent. In Senegal, they actually fast like Ramadan, not eating during the daylight for Lent. (I'm pretty sure this is just to prove to the Muslims that Christians can have discipline too.) Most also don't eat meat on Fridays. Well. I don't eat meat. Ever. So that's rather blah for me. And I'm in recovery from an eating disorder. It was years ago (over 4 now) but, like recovering alcoholics don't drink alcohol socially, I can't diet socially (or religiously). If I really wanted or felt obliged to give up some luxury food, I would have to do it under the supervision of a doctor. Yeah right.

So, I've generally made a tradition of "taking on" a discipline instead of giving something up. Unfortunately, my first year I took on reading the Gospels and ended up cramming all my reading into Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Oops. Another time, I took on praying (from the Book of Common Prayer) 5 times a day. I definitely bit off more than I could chew on that one.

This year, I don't really remember how I decided to go tzniut for Lent. On the one hand, I'd been thinking about Christian modesty rules since September. I got in to a Fundamentalist Mormon kick, since I'd been writing a paper on polygyny, and it just struck me as interesting that this group of people (or many of them, because they are definitely not a homogenous group) believes that God wants women to wear prairie dresses. There are a lot of other variants of Christian modesty and I'll talk about that in my next post, but that definitely got me started thinking, anyway.

On the other hand, I'd gotten my hair cut really short at the beginning of the school year and I wasn't a huge fan, so I started wearing my headscarves more. Now, I'd been wearing headscarves on and off since I was in Senegal, but I started wearing them more often and in more different styles. Particularly, I found that when I covered it in a more Muslim-looking style, à la the hijab or the shayla.
Wearing it like this, I'd noticed I got treated differently. People looked at me longer in general. Men (and women, but mostly men) that I'm assuming were Muslim gave me a kind of head-nod that reminded me of what a friend of mine calls the "Hello-fellow-homosexual" head-nod. When you recognize someone else who is obviously gay, you give them a friendly nod and a smile to say, "Hey, I'm gay too." This one looked like a Muslim head-nod, or maybe just a religious head-nod. Either way, it was interesting.

So, I started researching opinions and facts about religious modesty rules regarding dress. There are so many of them, which I will tell you all about in my next post! Suffice it to say that the Orthodox Jewish style of modesty, called tzniut or tznius (depending on your transliteration of the Hebrew) 'clicked' with me enough that I picked it as my Lenten discipline... in December.


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