A journey to cover

Oct 2, 2018 by

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“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

“Yes?” I said, a little surprised by the short-haired, long-bearded man with tattoos covering his forearms. I had just buckled my littlest child into his car seat and was preparing to climb into the driver’s seat. We were at a Pennsylvania gas station and had just stopped to use the restroom before continuing the drive back to our home in Maryland.

The man continued, “I don’t mean to startle you, but I just wanted to tell you how nice it is to see you covering your head and dressing modestly and teaching your girls to do the same.”

Those were the last words I expected to come out of his mouth, but I was instantly warmed by them. Wearing a covering on my head was fairly new to me, at least wearing one all the time, and I hadn’t always been wearing it with the greatest confidence. So, I told him how encouraging it was that he should say that. And it truly was. We proceeded to talk for a few minutes about where we were both from, and he told me, as he pointed to his forearms, that he and his wife were on a similar journey to leave the world behind. That may have been the most pleasant encounter I’ve ever had with a stranger, maybe because the reality is he was no stranger at all, but a brother.

This journey that I’ve been on recently is about more than just wearing a piece of cloth on my head, but it’s about understanding, accepting and loving who God made me to be, and what role he has given me. It was late 2013 or early 2014 when I remember reading 1 Corinthians 11, the chapter in the Bible that discusses the propriety of Christian women covering their heads while praying and prophesying. I had read this chapter many times before, but this time was different. I couldn’t ignore it. I could no longer reason that Paul was really just addressing some “other” women, or some “other” culture, or some “other” time period. But I had to ask, “Was he addressing me? Now?

I spent hours online over the next few weeks reading what everybody had to say about whether the head covering was a practice for today or not. Many felt strongly and reasoned that it was not. Many felt strongly and reasoned that it was. My husband and I talked a lot about it. This whole idea of actually putting this teaching into practice was new to him also, but he thought that my decision should be a result of my own conviction and was reluctant to push me in one direction or the other. He did, however, advise that I not separate the practice of head covering from the One who is Lord of the practice (much like the Israelites kept the Sabbath without recognizing the Lord of the Sabbath).

Other than the fact that all the reasoning for the head covering was more convincing, in the end it was God’s gentle and clear voice that spoke to my heart. He showed me, using my own husband as a model, the comfort and safety and shelter of headship. Due to some sorrowful and difficult issues we happened to be working through at that time, these attributes in my husband stood out all the more, providing for me an amazing reflection of my heavenly Father and his headship.

He also showed me the beauty of humble submission, both to my husband and to the Lord. I was struck by this verse in 1 Peter 3, “Just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” So not only did Sarah obey her husband, but she actually called him lord! I realized that just because our society had drifted so far from that type of reverence did not make it any less becoming to a Christian woman, or any less required.

Another kind of reverence that was missing is that which is owed to Jesus himself. I remember being completely awed by the scene of the two Marys falling at the resurrected Jesus’ feet, taking hold of them and worshiping him in the last chapter of Matthew. I just kept picturing Mary grasping her Lord’s feet, realizing that that lowly physical position of hers represents exactly the way I want to live out my life. I want to be in submission to him now, so that when he returns, bowing low and grasping his feet will be the most natural thing.

And that is how I made the decision to cover my head. The practice isn’t some legalistic adherence to rules that make no sense, but it is a proclamation that Jesus is Lord, and he is my Lord. It is a silent proclamation that God’s order of creation — God, Jesus, Man, Woman — and my role in it, is good.

At that point, I began wearing a scarf to church and at home for personal devotions. The Bible only mentions “praying and prophesying” and because of my hang-up over the words, I didn’t feel like it needed to be an all-the-time sort of thing. However, over the next few years, I wondered more than once: Is morning devotion and church the only time I pray? When conversations come up throughout the day about the Lord Jesus and I speak of him, to my children or friends, isn’t that prophecy? Shouldn’t I always be prepared to pray and to speak of the Lord? But honestly, the thought of wearing a covering all the time was too daunting for me to consider.

When my husband, children and I began attending a Mennonite church at the end of 2017, the thought confronted me again. This time, I could not reason it away or put it off any longer. Nobody from our church pressured me in any way; in fact, no one even mentioned it. But just like before, God seemed to speak to my heart.

One time, in a conversation with a friend from church, she told me of an interaction she had with a woman from the school board who had come to her home to evaluate her home school progress for the year. After business was over, the woman began telling my friend about some of her own personal struggles. My friend asked if she could pray for the woman before she left. The focus of that story was not about head coverings and she did not tell it to me to show me the importance of wearing one. But it made such an impression on me and seemed to illustrate perfectly that a Christian woman ought always be ready to speak to God or on God’s behalf.

Like another friend whose advice I sought about the issue told me in an email, “It seems that if we are living and breathing and existing in Jesus, the habit of the covering could, and should, be there in some obvious, joyful, meaningful way without being a form of legalism or syncretism.” It just seemed to make so much sense. It was clear that this proclamation of headship needed to be made, not only privately at home or among the religious at church, but out in public for all the world to see. “Jesus is Lord! He is my Head! I am his and he is mine!” Isn’t this worth proclaiming all the time?

Sarah McKelvey lies in Salisbury, Md., and attends a Biblical Mennonite Alliance congregation. This post first appeared at her husband’s blog, They Were Strangers.

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