Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Clothes Rant

Every now and then, a topic of discussion comes up that crawls under my skin and stays there. One of them is attire for Mass.

I came back to the Church at 17, and at that time I owned maybe one pair of dress pants. I wore jeans to Mass every weekend, thankful just to be there, grateful that God loved me just as I was.

As I got older, I started to make a conscious effort to dress more formally for Mass. I wanted to look my best for God. The jeans stayed, but t-shirts gave way to blouses and sandals or boots.

But today I sit in the pews and I worry.


In the Catholic circles I navigate now, discussions about clothes always turn to "suitability" and "appropriateness."

And it becomes a string of one-upping: who wears jeans, who says jeans are unsuitable, who wears dress slacks, and who wears a full suit or a skirt, saying that's the best way to honor God.

There's always someone who throws in the line that we should dress as though we were seeing the President. That one is my favorite. Now where did I hang that bridesmaid's gown ...

Underneath at all, there's a current of condescension: if you don't do these things, you're not being reverent. You're not making an effort. You're not giving God what He deserves. You're not good enough.

After a while, as you sit at Mass with these voices in the back of your mind, it can almost break your spirit.

Weeks later, you pull on your best blouse and dress pants, look critically at the curvy form in the mirror, and think, "Well, at least no one will think anything of me today."

Feeling safe at last, you head out the door.


This is the place I find myself these days, somewhere between endlessly frustrated and outright defeated.

I have always had the heart of one who sought to honor God everywhere I went and in everything I did. That internal state remains the same regardless of what I'm wearing.

But I am getting older now, and the college student label no longer "excuses" me. I find myself bending over backward about one too many things, if only to prevent cracking under the pressure of becoming a Godly woman. I do what I have to do in order to be accepted and to feel like I'm satisfying the church culture around me.

I want to shout instead to the women in dresses and the men in suits that they're not good enough, either; that they are no holier or more beloved in the eyes of God than I am, despite our efforts.

I want to embrace the girl I've seen the last few weeks in chains with green hair, sitting in the front pew and going through the Mass like she means it. I've seen people nudge each other and whisper about her.

The week we lost power in a terrible storm found me walking into Mass wearing a concert tee and short shorts — we didn't have any water to do laundry and it was all I had clean. People stared at me. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to turn around and walk out.

Instead, I thanked God with so much joy for something I so often forget: God is holding nothing back from me. Not from me or from anyone else there, for that matter. We give Him our broken hearts and He gives us everything.

Maybe I'm too progressive. Hell, maybe I just don't understand.

But for right now, for this place in my life, I am trying. I confess that there are days I just want to hear, "Yes, you are beautiful, and yes, you are good enough."

The God of all creation says that about me!

I want that to be the only thing that matters.

1 comment:

Nell said...

I have to say, I think this is a fantastic entry, and beautifully well articulated. I'm deeply sorry for those people in your parish who feel that good clothing makes them better Christians.

My home parish is large, and we still have fairly good attendance rates, and whilst on a Sunday, most folks do, in fact wear 'Sunday' clothes, daily Mass is attended by people in their work uniforms, their shopping clothing, their childminding clothing - they have just taken time out of their busy lives to spend with God, and everyone appreciates that about everyone else.

A few years ago, we had to attend an Easter Sunday service in an Anglican Cathedral (my sister in law was a soloist) - it was a few hundred miles away, and the whole family went to stay for a couple of days. Although my in laws are Anglican, they're not active, and so there was so much fuss when we were packing about what would be "good enough" to wear, which, much as I love them, I thought really rather missed the point of Easter Sunday! As it happens, that Cathedral was, in fact, one of those Churches where everyone would have looked askance at someone not dressed up to the nines. It made such a different to the earlier liturgy I had attended in the RC Cathedral, where a young family, quite hippy, attended in sanded feet, shorts, t-shirts... but the devotion, and elation at the Gospel, that showed on their faces said it all.