Why I am a Plain-dressing Quaker, and why I cover

I was walking the dog today and processed a lot of this Plain thing that has been going on. I realize by just saying, “I think I’ve figured it out” that I have not indeed figured anything out for any length of time. So here’s what I have so far.


1. Why am I a plain dressing Quaker


I’ve gone plain to save my life, frankly. The first sign that my life needed saving was when I was laid off from a job that was making me crazy. I realized over a year ago, when I was laid off and began to notice the world around me (similarly to a smoker discovering flavor after he or she quits), that had I not been laid
off I would have continued to work at a job that had me depressed, sick, and on a destructive path with regards to health.


I processed through a lot of this in Meeting, and I thought I’d saved myself then because I had the good fortune to have marketable skills other than in biotechnology and made a relatively smooth transition to
education. I enjoyed my new career immensely, but something was still not quite right. Working for gigs, as anyone who works gigs knows, makes one insecure. You feel that the contract you have potentially is the last contract you will ever have. As a result you are tempted to accept every gig that is offered to you. I did this. I took every teaching contract that was offered me last semester (Spring 2010). This meant that at one time I was teaching 12 classes! Not 12 credits (which would be excessive), but indeed 12 classes. To give a bit of perspective, a full time faculty member might be teaching 3 or 4 and have a moderate amount of
office/administrative responsibility as well.


How did I manage to stay on top of it? Piece of cake. I would drink espresso by the mug full in the late afternoon/early evening. This would make my night time hours exceptionally productive. Midnight felt
like first thing in the morning. I went along doing this, not noticing that I was not sleeping, driving like a maniac, and quick to anger. I had chest pains for a week before I thought I should tell somebody about it, and even then (and only motivated by a lecture I was putting together for a health class regarding stroke and heart attack symptoms) I rationalized that my new asthma medication must have been doing funny things to me, and I went to my asthma doctor.


One EKG and echo cardiogram later I realized that I was suffering from caffeine toxicity. My doctor had asked me about my coffee intake, but I was still thinking in terms of having only 1 or 2 cups of coffee
a day. I was not having 1 or 2 cups of coffee, I was having a MUG (that’s about 2 ½ cups or so) of ESPRESSO (usually consumed by the demitasse) most evenings so that I could meet a ridiculous,
self-imposed workload.


I processed a lot of this in Meeting as well. It was clear to me that I was exceedingly obtuse with regards to my own health and wellness. I lacked any real sensitivity to my own needs. I began to seek a tool to help me pace myself, be less obsessive, remember the things that are important. I knew, for example, that I was always in a hurry, even doing everyday things. I literally was in too much of a hurry to fold something or put something away. I was always steps ahead of myself, if that makes sense to you. So I implemented techniques to slow myself down. These seemed intuitive, but they made such a difference. For example, I
make my bed in the morning. That sounds so mundane, but it helps me begin my day slowly. I take the dog for a walk in the park or take my bicycle (my other dog) for a ride. I make breakfast. This means I chop
vegetables, break the egg, put the kettle on, etc. As a result my work day starts late. This works for my line of work as I am either teaching online or my traditional classes do not start until about midday or later (I also teach the kinds of classes that meet once a day for 4 hours in the evening).


At around that same time I was going through the process of membership with my Meeting, and remember saying that I thought the Simplicity testimony was probably the least applicable in modern times. How’s
that for irony? I am not sure anymore how I really started thinking about Plainness as the next step to slowing down, perhaps Quaker Jane’s website http://quakerjane.com/ However it began, Plainness offered itself as that tool I was looking for to help me remember what was important. Plainness helped me remove myself from the destructive environment I was still in. It was not a physical environment, but as influential. Plainness removed me from a consumerist, hurry-hurry place that was killing me. Plainness attempts to retrain me not to count my importance in having a “regular 9-5” for the sake of having that 9-5. Even as I write that it does not adequately describe what I am trying to say. Plainness attempts to retrain me to balance where there had been imbalance.


Let me give you an example. One of my schools offered a Fall course that would meet on Saturday mornings from 8 am to 1:30 pm. I would have to get up at about 6 to take care of my animals, and leave the house by 7 in order to get to class on time. I would have jumped at that opportunity not too long ago. Now, I will not. I cannot. If I commit to this for 15 weeks my Saturdays would be ruined, and I would be too tired to attend Meeting on Sunday. Saying no to this offer caused me such anxiety and panic that I immediately had to call my sister-friend for support. Who says no to work? That’s just crazy and lazy right? Especially in today’s economy. I am sure some of you reading this blog would have the same sentiment. But I have other things I would rather do a morning than this. I’d rather wake up and make my bed, exercise, feed my animals, and make my breakfast. I think I would prefer the time than the money.



2. Why do I cover


Quakers wait on God. Whatever a Friend’s concept of God is; a theistic one, a non-theistic one, an atheist one, it doesn’t matter for the sake of this discussion. Quakers wait. In an unprogrammed meeting we wait in silence for inspiration, we wait upon the Lord. I find these moments of silence as tonic. They occur for me in many situations. They occur, for example, on a long drive, while I am walking my dog or riding my bicycle, when I am watering my plants, ironing, doing laundry, etc. It struck me that this is as some might
describe being in constant prayer.


Many religious movements practice covering their heads when they pray, or covering their heads in reminder that they pray. I have been led, as non-theistic as I am, to this practice of covering my head in prayer. I cannot say it is because I feel like I am approaching God and must give obeisance. I think it is the latter explanation, that covering my head reminds me that I am in constant prayer. Constant prayer, constant processing, constant meditation, it does not matter to me what it is called. I am simply trying to describe this thing that happens when I am alone and silent and learn so much. It has become so important to me that when I am done riding my bicycle and take off my helmet I tie on a scarf over my pony tail (( I usually wear caps or snoods with my dreadlocks braided underneath, but obviously you can’t wear this under a bicycle helmet). So even then, in my cargo shorts and T-shirt instead of my usual jumpers, dresses or skirts, I am Plain.

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Comment by Anne Littlebird on 7th mo. 30, 2010 at 6:13pm
Paula, I so agree with you about work. I have had a second job for over 20 years. This is the first time I haven't had one. And yes I could sorely use the money but I can also use the time - to go back to sewing and weaving rather than wolfing down dinner and heading out to job #2 after a full day. And not to have my weekends - or any downtime has not been good. So I made the decision to try to not have one unless I made money off sewing or weaving. I am more relaxed, and feel better. There is time for honest prayer rather than a quick get back to you later. Thanks for letting me know there are more of us out there.
Comment by Helen Bayes on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 8:52am
I'm following the sharing about becoming plain and finding is encouraging and helpful. My steps are tentative and probably inconspicuous so far.
I stopped wearing jewelry including my wedding ring, first. That step was easy. My jewelry bits are safe in a box, and I will gradually give them away to family and friends. I think my family have noticed so I am unlikely to be given any more.
Then I gave up going to the hairdresser (something that has been a pleasure for years). So my hair is growing and I'm learning how to manage it. Then I got these rather plain glasses (compared with the latest styles that I used to go for).
All new clothes I buy now are in plain and neutral colours, (grey, fawn, off white, brown, black) and have no decoration added to the style. I try to buy locally made clothes, in natural fabrics, eg a favourite is a handknitted vest in grey alpaca wool from a farm close by. I often wear a beanie (indoors and out) to control my hair - which is not yet long enough to tie up. I have been looking for a way to get a simple cap without sending to USA for one. I could make one of course, and am thinking about crochet, which I am good at. I made one which is very colourful, because I used oddments of wool and it works well as a hair container.
I must admit that turning away from strong colours and intriguing patterns is a bit of a grief for me. I have done a lot of complex knitting and still have my knitted Kaffe Fasset jumpers to wear. I also have some lovely coloured/patterned clothes from the past which I still wear because I have not felt able to give them away. They hold dear memories like a family event or holiday.
It seems to me that plainness is not just the material and the style, but the emotion which is generated by the garment. It seems good to me to keep the love they hold. But I won't buy any more of that sort, and gradually the range I have will narrow down.
This is an unfinished inward journey for me, rather like fasting, which is not done to be noticed, but to remind oneself quietly and continuously of being in the presence of God. To be open to prayer and contemplation constantly.
I fast too sometimes, and it is about reminding myself every time I think of getting a hot drink and something to munch, that I am in the Presence. I also treat my occasional showers (Australia is very short of water so I shower when I need to wash my hair) as caring for the body in which the Spirit is present, prompting me and working through me. It is like cleaning the temple I suppose. My body is a temple of the Spirit, and this is why I must care for it and not abuse it. This is why I must dress it plainly, too - and modestly - and in ways that do not distract or be an obstacle to how I am led to be/act. Jewelry, scarves etc used to be quite a distraction and a time waster! This exploration is putting me firmly on the ground of my faith and is accompanied by waves of joy - far deeper than the pleasure of a new hairdo or a novel combination of colours.
I am drifting towards plainness in food and cooking too. A simple fresh meal of locally grown foods seems to be an expression of the same inward need. So I bake simple slices and plain cakes, and will not bother again with all the creamy layers and decorating that cookbooks propose. Not that I did that much - but I used to think I should, or it would be better, or something like that. But I love to have a meal of veggies just picked and plain-cooked, and bread and jam made at home or given by a friend.
That's all for now. I don't know what will be a next step.
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 10:08am
I'm grateful to everyone for sharing your journeys into plainness. Much food for thought (and prayer.)
Comment by anne stansell on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 10:20am
When I was younger, I was involved with so called "holiness churches". Though they were different denominations,( most were independent)they all shared an absolute obsession with dress. How you dressed was absolutely linked with your God-status. Unfortunately you could never be "holy" enough. I now find this the most ridiculous measure and cannot understand Quakers fascination with it. Don't bother quoting scriptures believe me, I've heard it all. T.marie
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 10:57am
Anne,
What I hear Friends saying is that they have found a great deal of help and joy in becoming plain, not seeing it as a sign of godliness. I think it's like anything else in religious life--knowing the Bible, Christian theology, tithing, (or whatever the equivalents are in other traditions). If you are concerned primarily about doing it "right," and you spend a lot of time judging whether other people are doing it right, then what would have been a gift for your own happiness and peace has become a snare to you. Anything that is good in itself can be used to promote self-righteousness and judgment of others.
Rosemary
Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 2:50pm
What an interesting sharing!

Anne, your sentence about running home to bolt your dinner so you could get to your second job says it all about how we may be losing touch with what is really really important. It would have been better to come home at the end of the work day with time to sit with your family or community for an evening meal, eh? We're learning.

Helen, I am a tropical bird originally from the Caribbean myself and am therefore given to color. You will not find me in browns and grays only, but I have begun paying attention to versatility, quality, and modesty. I have reduced my household items considerably. I am trying my best to source my clothing from local makers, and from responsible and fairly paid workers. I have been pursuing the same goals in food. I am lucky that where I live I can buy pastured poultry, beef, lamb, pork, and eggs. I also belong to my local co-op. This is all part of the process I think.

Anne Stansell I am sorry for thee's pain. My leading to plainness has no real basis in the bible. While I have recently found use for the bible for the first time in my life I am not a theistic Friend. Others do indeed find support for their leadings in Plainness there. I am not too concerned about where the leading is from and am not too concerned to convince anyone to do what I am doing, and certainly hope not to begin to evaluate people's holiness by how they dress. I simply am relating why I find myself doing what I am doing now. I expect I will "wear it as long as [I] can".
Comment by anne stansell on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 10:28pm
Paula,
You mentioned that your leading had no real basis in the Bible. You also mentioned that you"hope not to begin to evaluate people's holiness by how they dress." I don't think I feel pain concerning this "leading" as I do confusion. I understand the sentiment of not wearing clothes that were made at other people's expense, or even indiscriminate spending on clothes that are not needed. Beyond common sense moderation it just seems like it would be hard for someone not to compare themselves to others. I have often heard the saying "to each his own" and I guess wearing brown and gray colors, long dresses, aprons and bonnets, would fall into this category for me. Thank-you for explaining your point of view, it does have a different flavor then the churches I grew up around. A.S.
Comment by Leslie Rodgers on 8th mo. 1, 2010 at 10:32pm
Ah, Friend Paula,
"I am not too concerned about where the leading is from and am not too concerned to convince anyone to do what I am doing, and certainly hope not to begin to evaluate people's holiness by how they dress."
You speak my heart.
I have spent the summer at a job that required "business casual" dress, and often found myself stretching that definition to at least include long skirts, flat shoes and no silly nylon stockings.
I am feeling relief that the job is ended, and that I can return to my simple dresses.
I too am a non-theist I suppose. There is this leading in my heart to my quirky form of plain dress, and yet I cannot say that God is making me do this, or that I think Jesus is going to be pleased with me for my wardrobe choices.
The most honest answer I can give to "why do you dress this way?" is "I really have no idea." It simply feels like what I am supposed to be doing. I think that is reason enough.
Comment by Helen Bayes on 8th mo. 2, 2010 at 8:36am
Anne, ooh yes I agree with your strong objections to rules around dress. I felt the nudge to tell my little story because it has been a very personal inward journey, which has been helped by hearing about others. So although it is my private way of being more attentive to the deeper layers of my awareness, there was something important for me in sharing about it. I would not comment or judge anyone on the way they dress, up or down, fashion or plain, boutique or 2nd hand. It is what is going on for that person that matters, and I believe we are all seekers in our own way. I am not following any verse or rule in the Bible, or any other outward source. I am responding to an intuition in myself about a way that might help me go deeper or become clearer. And I'll be very wary about becoming obsessed or judgmental because that would be an complete turnaway from what it's about.
Comment by Rachelle Merle on 8th mo. 2, 2010 at 2:02pm
Paula, you said: "I’ve gone plain to save my life, frankly. The first sign that my life needed saving was when I was laid off from a job that was making me crazy. I realized over a year ago, when I was laid off and began to notice the world around me (similarly to a smoker discovering flavor after he or she quits), that had I not been laid
off I would have continued to work at a job that had me depressed, sick, and on a destructive path with regards to health. "

I was shocked to read that because I could have written it myself! I didn't get laid off soon enough and got extremely sick (mostly self-caused).

I, too, find myself led to plainness. It seems to come from the distaste I have about the over-sexualization of women in our culture and materialistic obsession. By plainly dressing, I am freeing myself from the "need/pressure" to look attractive and sexy, and instead focus on clothes with a more utilitarian view. I find it also to be a constant reminder of "the important things:" family, love, god, others.

People have been discussing judgement in respect to plain dressing, and to be perfectly honest, I do find myself judging others. This isn't something I like about myself, nor is related to being plain. I think the tendency towards judgementalness can manifest itself in most ways, and is only superficially related to dress of any type. I try to do as Helen said: "I would not comment or judge anyone on the way they dress, up or down, fashion or plain, boutique or 2nd hand. It is what is going on for that person that matters, and I believe we are all seekers in our own way. "

However, when I see young children dressed extremely fashionably and revealing, I find myself judging their parents: "What are they thinking?!" I ask myself furiously, "How can they teach their children that looks are the important thing in life!?!" Then I feel all self-righteous and rant to my husband about how people's values are so confused.

My husband, listens patiently, until I reach the point where I start talking abut how I shouldn't judge. I don't know where the parents are in their life, etc, etc. He is much better than I about being non-judgemental. I hope to reach a place of "non-judgement," but I must admit I am not there yet...

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