Of Bonnets and Barnesville*


A couple of weeks before Isabel, her wee one Tabitha and myself were to travel to Ohio for Yearly Meeting, I came across a bit of a conundrum. I was getting the sense that I was to dress Plain; and not only that, but with a black bonnet to match Isabel's, as well. The reason this was difficult was because A) I didn't have said black bonnet and B) I didn't want to seem like a Quaker Jane groupie*, and C) I hadn't worn full plain dress in several months, and wasn't comfortable explaining to strangers that sometimes I was being led to wear a bonnet, cap, dress, kerchief and apron, and other times I was being told to put them aside. I like consistency, and this sort of thing has been greatly exercising my concept of this, to say the least.

As the trip loomed closer, I purchased the fabric and ribbon needed to make a new bonnet, but ran out of time to do so. (It takes at least a week of hand-sewing) This brought about a bit of relief. Perhaps I didn't have to wear a black bonnet after all! Then, a day or so before I was to drive down to meet with my traveling companions, it occurred to me –- quite clearly -- what I was supposed to do. I was to take the black “Amish bonnet” I'd forgotten I already had. The slightly crumpled one hidden in a corner of my closet. The one that had most likely been made for tourists or collectors: cheaply constructed with a gaudy floral arrangement ribbon. I dusted it off, re-shaped the brim, cut out the offending ribbon and sewed in a proper one. Not perfect, but a black bonnet. It would have to do.

After spending the night in Denver, we drove east for two and a half days until we reached Ohio.
(A story that may be related later, if I'm to do so) The week spent camping in the dappled greenery alongside Stillwater meetinghouse was both delightful and challenging, especially in that several things came out of the above leading.

First was the identity confusion. As in, several Friends got Isabel and myself mixed up. I ended up in conversations addressed to her, and vice versa. “Oh! I thought thee was Isabel,” was stated a couple of times. It was a little disorienting, as neither of us think that we resemble one another very much. Yes, we both are small statured, and yes, we both wear glasses and plain dress, but until this trip I didn't understand just how we could be perceived as, well, identical.

It was only when my very own sister remarked on this so-called resemblance that I understood what must be triggering this recognition; for more than superficial outside similarities, there is a true similarity within the both of us, in that we are both in the same Spirit.

But what does that mean? It doesn't mean that we are mental clones of one another, having the same likes or dislikes. It certainly doesn't mean that we both agreed to uphold a certain set of testimonies or are members of the same meeting. What it does mean is that we are both submitting to the same Source, who in turn is re-shaping us into His likeness. In this way then, dressed alike or not, we actually ARE becoming one and the same. As friend Paul once wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Also, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Aside from Identity, another issue surfaced regarding this leading; in that a few people thought that we were dressing alike because it was a “Colorado” or “regional” thing. I was able to explain to several individuals that it was a personal leading, but there might have been a few that came away with the mistaken thought that, like some sort of ultra-conservative sect, we were trying to establish a dress code that everyone in our community should follow. If this were indeed the case, then they would have every right to be suspicious! There is perhaps nothing more grievous to the Spirit than when certain people set up rules and conditions that others must struggle under without assistance. The only Teacher and Guide we need as a community is our Lord, and only He can show us how we are to speak, act, and yes, even how to dress. If some of us are asked to appear seemingly odd or even downright foolish, I have only two things to ask. One, what are the fruits (i.e. spiritual outcomes)? Are they useful or detrimental? Building up or destroying? Second, who am I to judge another's servant? As Jesus said to the disciples regarding John's life's outcome, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.

Despite my initial hesitancy, I'm glad I was obedient to what was placed on my heart and wore what I was supposed to wear. During our time in Barnesville I gave my best to give answer to the Hope that I possess, and am now rejoicing in the knowledge that He can use ordinary things to reach out to myself and others –- even a bonnet.





* Note: Bonnet refers to an outer head-covering, usually made of silk and buckram, that protects the head from the elements. A cap is what goes underneath, usually made of linen or cotton.

* Also: Quaker Jane is a website maintained by friend Isabel at http://www.quakerjane.com





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Views: 111

Comment by Chronicler on 8th mo. 20, 2009 at 6:51pm
Thank thee for the post, Laura!

Clothing can be a touchy thing for some. Most liberal meetings in my area think it's okay to wear shorts during worship but are put off by plain clothing. Even the Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting who don't wear plain clothes have a higher standard for modesty than the liberal meetings here.

Another thing that I have noticed: the people who talk the most about plain clothing are not those who are wearing it. This is interesting because it gives an insight into who is "obsessed" with the topic. A former member of OYM spent about an hour complaining to me one day about plain-dressed Friends and how they were not wearing traditional Quaker clothing. At the end of the monologue, I made two comments: 1) what he was calling "plain clothing" was an early 20th century version of a long Quaker clothing tradition, and 2) he was wearing clothing during that conversation that would not have been acceptable to any group of Quakers in 1850.

Even in clothing, a little charity goes a long way and tempers a multitude of sinful opinions and judgments.
Comment by Martin Kelley on 8th mo. 23, 2009 at 2:01pm
I have a cousin who does Civil War reenactments and he critiqued my suspenders because they weren't authentically Nineteenth Century. I tried to tell him as gently and charitably as I could that historical authenticity was not my goal.

Although I usually dress plain in public, it's not something I think about too much anymore. Others do talk about it: it is one of the most searched-for phrases on Quakerranter and QuakerQuaker. There is a huge mainstream interest in this testimonies above others. I'm as surprised about it as anyone else, but I see it bringing folks to meetinghouses. Maybe they sense the Spirit behind it and want to learn more. I'm sure the internet visibility creates confusion on both sides when the newcomer sees the benches full of shorts and t-shirts!

The one other piece to share is that a lot of old Quaker journals seem to depict teenage years of relative debauchery that ended with a call to dress plain: this was the first manifestation of future ministry. There's something about the obedience and discernment necessary when going plain that seems to prepare Friends for ministry. I think that the internal wrestling over what is plain and what is plainly-ostentatious is good training, as this kind of polling the Inward Christ for instruction is key to faithful service.
Comment by Wee Dragon on 9th mo. 29, 2009 at 6:13pm
I love this...being conformed to the same Spirit. It is the same G-d that shapes and molds us, we should all have a recognizable Light, as we all come and drink from the same Source. We see so much in terms of "either/or", "this/that"....everything is separate, and we take pride in our individuality. Yet, in H-s Spirit we are united in ways that we could never acheive with our own efforts. Beautiful piece.

Also, I relate to the waves of going in and out of various forms of dress. I used to deride myself for being "fickle", and finally decided to accept that's part of who G-d made me to be. It's a great exercise to follow H-s leadings, even when they don't seem to make sense, or might make us stand out in some way. I've lately been covering sometimes in a Russian ORthodox style, long scarves wrapped around the head (sort of a loose hijab). I sometimes have to watch myself from feeling "foolish". People do see my headcoverings and long skirts and speak to me in a way they would not otherwise if I am dressed in a more mainstream way. Oftentimes more respectful, sometimes nervous and curious. I once had a woman within moments of sitting next to me at the library with our kids begin to hold back tears as she told me about her searchings for meaning in life. Oh, think of the Light and Life you can share because of obeying G-d's leading to wear that crumpled up black novelty bonnet!! :)

Blessings!

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