Thursday, June 11, 2009

Does dressing modestly make us more holy?

Today, I was reading the story of a Christian woman in Texas who decided to see what it would be like to wear the hijab (the traditional Muslim head scarf) for a year (if you are following me on Twitter, you might have seen the link from one of my tweets earlier in the day). This story really interested me for a few reasons - one of which was that I recently traveled to the Middle Eastand saw many women who wore the hijab and other forms of covering to dress modestly (but, I must also mention, very beautifully and elegantly in many cases). Check out this excerpt from the article:

Wall has grown to appreciate this sort of privacy and, in some ways, respect it. Perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the experience is a newfound devotion to her Christian faith. The Islamic faith requires followers to pray five times a day, the first prayer being at 5 a.m. Though Wall has not yet assumed this tradition, she admits she may in the future, and finds herself praying more often.

“You know we live in a society that is very unconscious of daily religious activities,” she said. “Throughout this experience, I have noticed myself becoming much more aware of God.”
(Just to be tongue in cheek, why do we never talk about men dressing modestly... or is that besides the point? After all, can't women be tempted by a fine looking male form? But that's another story...)

Actually, Christianity also has a long history of covering up. My best friend's mother was raised in the Catholic church, and she tells stories of having to cover her head when going to services (and that if you forgot your head covering, which looked like a little lace doily, you had to use a Kleenex!) Catholic nuns and sisters, Mennonites, the Amish, and many other sects have a modest dress code, some covering their heads as well.

When I traveled in the Middle East, I didn't wear a head scarf, but I did dress modestly, mostly in long sleeves and long, loose trousers or a long skirt. I don't know if it made me feel any more religious, especially as covering up in this way isn't part of our religious tradition, but then again, I'm a pastor, so I generally dress pretty modestly anyway! I then got to thinking about some of the things I see people wearing, even to church, in the heat of summer - shorts, tube tops, tank tops, and maybe I'm a traditionalist here, but I do think that these kinds of outfits don't really fit the worshipful atmosphere.

Maybe it's less about being "modest" per se and more about being appropriate, reverent, and making sure that people around you aren't uncomfortable. If you saw someone preaching in a mini skirt, it could be pretty distracting! We don't dress that way for work, so why should we dress that way for church? At the same time, some women go in the other direction - dressing up a lot for church so that they can show off their expensive duds. That, too, is a distraction, and detracts from the prayerful atmosphere.

To sum up, I am not really settled on whether dressing far more modestly makes women more holy. If modest dress is part of your religious observance, I imagine that it would remind you more regularly of your faith and be a devotion and mediation. I'm probably still going to wear my bikini at the beach when I have the opportunity, but at the same time, I'm going to think about my appearance from the modesty perspective, making sure I appear respectful and reverent, and that I'm not causing a distraction or a temptation for anyone with what I'm wearing in public. (And it probably goes without mentioning, but in private, all bets are off!) After all, it is a wonderful feeling for other people to listen to you and respect you not because of what you look like, but because of the goodness they see in you and the graceful message they hear in your words!

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