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 Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 2, 2010 at 2:50pm
I'm with you! I often get judgmental about other people. It's just something our minds do, and all we can do is ask for forgiveness and help with it.

This thread is wonderful.
Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 2, 2010 at 3:31pm
I've learned to be less judgmental for purely selfish reasons. As harshly as you judge others you will be worse on yourself. That means that when you fall short you will be less able to be kind to yourself. So for my own benefit I try to be less judgmental about others.
Comment by Leslie Rodgers on 8th mo. 2, 2010 at 8:50pm
It is indeed difficult not to judge...probably why we're commanded not to. I notice there are no commandments about things that don't come fairly naturally to humans.....we just get commanded when we NEED commanding.

I am thinking judgement is our natural instinct for evaluation carried to a negative extreme. We do need to evaluate things, people, situations in order to have a sane and safe life for ourselves and our loved ones.
Example from my history--Is the woman across the street who dresses her six year old in hooker-like fashions going straight to hell? Probably not and I'm not the one to judge that. However, is she someone whose house my five year old will be spending a lot of time in? Nope. I'd prefer my child grow up with my values. As a parent I'm responsible for evaluating the situation, which is different from judging.
The trick, from moment to moment, is to be aware of which we are doing.
Comment by anne stansell on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 8:42am
Yeah that's the "trick" alright, and one I haven't mastered. Like how can I look at the woman across the street and how she dresses her child and Know what kind of person she is or her values. Are clothes, a perfect indicator? From my background, how can I look at someone in a long dress, long hair, no jewelry and an apron and not think, religious fanatic, hide the kool aid! As far as my children are concerned, hmmm thats a tough one. If they lived across the street and I thought my children may be inclined to play, I think I'd try to get to know them. At five supervising play is acceptable. I think I'd want my children to know everyone doesn't believe what we do, but our values as parents are the ones we'll follow, till your old enough to live your own. A.S.
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:01am
Yes, I look at it more the way you do, Anne. When my kids ask me (for instance!) why they can't watch all the movies and play all the video games that some of their friends do, I just say different parents make different rules. I believe in community and neighbors knowing and supporting each other, despite our differences. But it has been painful at times when my kids are exposed to things that aren't good for them. There aren't any easy decisions about these things.
Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:05am
RE: "From my background, how can I look at someone in a long dress, long hair, no jewelry and an apron and not think, religious fanatic, hide the kool aid!" Isn't it interesting how our personal experiences color our perceptions. If you lived across from me and saw me in a long dress, long hair, no jewelry and an apron it's likely because I'm doing housework and don't want to get my dress dirty. I think where I live, rural Pennsylvania, makes my point of view different too. I see Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren all the time and have never thought of them as religious fanatics.
Comment by Helen Bayes on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:10am
Yes, a nice distinction. But what next? The mother who dresses her children in the latest fancy gear is also trying to do her best, and show her love. She may well think that new sexy gear is helpful to her children's sense of pride in themselves. (Ah well, pride is a mixed blessing!) We do not need to see her as an enemy. If we welcome her and her children with kindness into our own home, we may help her own seeking. The expensive trap of trendy clothes and its spiritual emptiness may well be already troubling her. And our own children will observe how the differences are handled and learn loving neighbourliness and peacemaking. I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm preaching. I just think that if I do something which distances me from worldly fashion and consumption, like going plain, it's not to become distanced from people who are in a different spiritual place, and not themselves called to plainness.
I'd love to hear more stories from those who are reading this!!!!
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:10am
Yes, Paula, and when I say I'm more like Anne I mean as a parent. I don't see people in plain dress as dangerous fanatics, either. Growing up with no contact with anyone from a plain-dressing community, and seeing movies like "Witness," I think if anything I tend to idealize them.
Comment by Leslie Rodgers on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:17am
Hmm....I can't help smiling at this. From my background when I see someone with long hair, long dress, no jewelry and an apron I think Hippie Chick-Kindred Spirit-she probably farms and has a flock of chickens and a passel of bohemian children, haha.
The religious fanatics I've known so far have always dressed as close to the current fashion as possible without showing 'too much' skin.
I did get to know the lady across the street, by the way. She was sort of nice, her value system was definitely different than ours, and she had a vocabulary I definitely didn't want my kids to learn. She was ok with her kids coming to our house to play which meant I got to supervise. I felt a lot more comfortable with that. (And I think she was glad to have her kids out of the house as much as possible.)

Clothes are definitely not a perfect indicator, but they are a means of communication if you know the 'code' of a particular culture.
Just recently my eldest daughter was musing on a guy she had once worked with, and she told me "I always thought he had no sense of style whatsoever and just threw random ill-fitting things together. Now I realize he was a "hipster" and was paying a lot of money to look like that."
I guess instead of feeling sorry for the poor waif we should have been admiring his very cool look! Who knew?
I think when I judge I'm wrong about half the time. Not a very good average.
Comment by anne stansell on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:23am
I wonder if seeing them all the time, (Mennonites,Amish, and Brethren) makes "plain" dress seem more "the next logical step" in a spiritual journey, then say here in Atlanta? Your right, my perception is completely different because of my background. When I hear people (in my own meeting) extol the virtues of plain dress, almost breaking out in " I can see, clearly now the rain is gone..." I cringe. I also,( as someone mentioned) follow that of God in me, and don't feel pressured to take something up, or lay it down because someone else does. A.S.


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