“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev 12:1)
This, from the most mystical book of the Bible. This, returning to my mind day after day after day. A woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun.
Earlier this past week, as I was returning to Chicago en route to Thanksgiving in Indiana, Jessie and I together found ourselves at the mall. We were there to fulfill a necessary errand but also we really like the mall sometimes. By and by, we went to Madewell. Oh, our hearts! Oh, our tender hearts! The problem with Madewell, silly silly Madewell, is that it ignites all of the envy and discontent our small bodies can hold. The problem with Madewell is that we like almost everything we see there, and we cannot afford even, really, a pair of socks. We walked through the store fairly briefly, allowing ourselves to touch and consider only a few things, looking at each other with bewildered, crestfallen expressions, basically speechless, retreating before our hearts wept too openly. We left feeling way more off-kilter than when we walked in. Full of hope, perhaps? That’s too generous. The feeling was much closer to dread. It’s a feeling I’ve felt before, many times, while shopping at shopping malls or window shopping online. That vague, deep, confusing blueness, that dread. Why is it so hard? We laugh off this kind of sadness, this kind of confusion, but it’s a serious thing, I think. What is that melancholy I feel at the mall? That true sorrow? Seeing so many truly beautiful things, clothes that would look good on my body, whole other lives I could live if only, if only. It’s light, yes, just shopping, no big deal. But it’s also heavy. I feel this light thing heavily. Heavy for so many of us. We are young and poor, and yet everything tries to tell us to strive for the life we could buy with more money. We all know that this is a problem. We all, all of us, have this problem. But it eats at our hearts a little bit. We participate in it without even trying to. We go to the mall, even so!
My clothes affect me deeply. Getting dressed is almost always fraught, almost always involves all of my feelings and senses. I am almost never satisfied with my closet, with what I own. I want my clothes to be as magnificent as my heart, I want my outward appearance to match my inward depths, I want to only be in the world in the fullness of myself. But we are so restricted by what we own, what is possible, what the day holds. I get so stuck in my days, so I get confused about what to wear. Because we talk about most everything, Jessie and I have talked about this before, finding common ground on two fronts: 1. That we almost always hate what we put on in the morning by the middle of the day, and 2. That we often find ourselves in seasons of wearing almost the exact same thing every day. Because nothing else will even remotely do.
I’ve been having a hard time at my new job for a couple of reasons, and I think I’ve identified one of the biggest problems. I work in an active kitchen; I have to wear t-shirts every day. I get dressed in the morning and I have no space, really, to choose. I have to put on a clean t-shirt in some array of terrible bright cheap-cotton-knit colors and the same food-splattered jeans as the day before. I feel gross before I’ve even walked into work, a shadow of myself, someone else entirely. This wears on me. It shouldn’t affect me so deeply, probably, but it does. I knew it would be a problem for my heart the minute my boss mentioned a loose dress code, the moment I realized that working in a kitchen restricted my clothing options. I knew it would be a problem, and it has been.
It feels so silly that I’m troubled by the fact that I have to wear t-shirts to work. That I look at my closet full of clothes and still sigh with discontent. That I even walk into Madewell in the first place and look, outwardly, like I belong there. Such privilege! Such frivolity! I critique myself for my own feelings, I judge the things that catch my heart. I tell myself, “get over it!” But when the funk doesn’t pass, when the feeling comes every day, the shame I wear, for some reason, with the t-shirt, it becomes worth thinking about a little more deeply. This won’t go away, I guess. I have to wear clothes. This is something I have to reckon with and continue to reckon with day after day after day.
This is something I want to pay attention to.
Late in my college years, I almost completely stopped buying clothes from normal retail stores because it was too expensive and because I found that I liked thrift shopping much better – the challenge of it appealed to me. Since college, I have made “no new clothes” my standard, with just a few exceptions (#underwear), because shopping at thrift stores and making my own clothes is better for me in every way. Better for the earth, better for other humans, better for my heart, better for my creativity, better for my bank account. I’m proud of myself for keeping this up, and also astonished at how acutely weird I feel at places like Madewell. How deep the want is, how deep the roots of consumerism grow in me. How do I undo these things? How do I rewire my brain to be content with what I have, to wear things because they are beautiful and comfortable and hurt no one and nothing else? I work really hard at thrift shopping, keeping my high standards, searching the racks for natural fibers, paying close attention to fit and quality and wear, mending or altering what is torn or amiss. I am proud of the wardrobe I have created with almost entirely secondhand pieces, and yet. And yet. I still frown at my closet, I still want to change after half a day, I still yearn, I still feel microscopic in a room of beautiful new clothes.
I don’t want to feel like that anymore. I refuse, or am beginning to refuse, that feeling I felt in Madewell. Extreme as it sounds, I think I need to make some decisions, even more strongly, more intentionally, about what I will and will not wear. If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it is, then my clothes should reflect that. My clothes should be clothes of joy, not clothes of confusion or sorrow. Clothes as vestments, as temple garments. Clothed with the sun.
It’s Advent, almost. Season of waiting, of yearning, of expectation. Also, regrettably, season of HUGE CONSUMERISM, which both makes me sick to my stomach and draws me in. Show me a store display with twinkly lights, and I’ll window shop all day. This Advent, and, coming, this Lent too, this whole year maybe, or really probably just my whole life, I have a new project. I want to be clothed with the sun. Like the woman in Revelation. Standing on the moon, twelve stars as my crown, clothed with the sun.
This project is not fully formed in my brain yet. It is coming into focus, some pieces of it, a little at a time. I’ll tell you a couple of things about it, and then maybe I’ll keep you posted. It isn’t really a project at all, really, it’s more of a posture. Or a set of standards? A way to keep being hopeful? It’s something. Here are my current, tiny, formless ideas about it.
- I want to dress for work, and not in the way that makes the most sense. I started thinking about this when I read Jeremiah 1:17 recently. When God first calls the prophet Jeremiah, this command is spoken: “But you, dress yourself for work; arise and say to them everything I command you.” I found myself caught on this line. Dress yourself for work. Dress myself for work. For work. The question here: what is my work? This is the question forever. What is my work? I know my work is bigger than my day jobs, this much has become increasingly clear. I know my work is something that is happening for me whether I chase it or choose it or not, something that is unfolding in me. Work that is vocation, work that is inherent. Work that belongs to my soul. This work might, maybe, be something like seeking. “Seeking” as vocation. This is also something that Jessie and I have talked about, something she brought up in a phone conversation once that I’ve been carrying around like a marble in my pocket. Maybe my work is seeking, all the things that can mean. Maybe I don’t know even what that means yet, I just do it every day. So, what clothes do seekers wear? How do I dress myself for work? This is a question whose answer I want to start chasing after, starting now, lasting forever.
- I want to make more of my clothes by hand. This is the biggest one. When I started sewing this past year, I also started working hard on self-drafting some clothing patterns, making a few things out of scraps of fabric and one majestic piece of black linen I let myself buy. Now I want to get a little bit more serious about making my own clothes and wearing the clothes I make. The only black friday shopping I did this year was at Jo Ann Fabrics, where I bought myself some more linen and some beautiful navy blue gingham. I do feel conflicted about buying brand new fabric of dubious origin (because how different is that really than buying clothes from Zara?) but I have to start somewhere. I did also buy some fantastic canvas and cotton shirting at a second-hand store in Indiana. I intend to make quite a few new pieces of clothing for myself, and to be careful about what patterns and shapes I choose for these pieces. I’m looking for utilitarian and versatile but beautiful pieces. Clothes I can wear for years, clothes I can mend and re-mend, clothes I can carry through decades. When I frown at my closet, I never frown at my handmade pieces, and I often reach for them when I don’t know where else to reach. Handmade clothes feel to me like the epitome of being clothed with the sun. Clothed with joy, clothed with agency, clothed with passion, with art, with my own soul outside my body. I want to embroider things in the clothes I make, add little secrets, little blessings for my body, pockets exactly where I want them. I want to wear the clothes I make out in the world and not worry about whether people notice that they are handmade or not. I want to knit another sweater and then another. I want to make clothes for my children and husband someday too. The challenges to this dream, of course, are time and money. Making clothes takes a lot of time, and fabric costs a lot of money. Sewing your wardrobe is more expensive than thrifting your wardrobe. This is where my heart sinks, this is where hope starts to slink into despair. I don’t know how much I can accomplish of what I hope, but at least I can start. I can be soft with myself even here. I can stop thrift shopping, even, and spend that money instead on ethically made fabric (which is always more expensive), on patterns. I can set aside a weekend, a sabbath even, to make some clothes, to clothe myself with joy. That feels possible and absolutely worthwhile. I’m hoping to self-draft or dramatically adapt some more patterns and when a certain shape works on me I will make multiples in different colors. Places to start. One thing at a time.
- I want to be soft with myself and not care about what feels proprietary or social. I want to wear what feels right for my body and heart every day. This might mean finding a new job, eventually, where I don’t have to wear t-shirts anymore. This might also mean not letting the peer-pressure dictate how I dress for any given event. I have a felt pom-pom necklace that I really love but that I don’t wear very often because it feels unusual in a way that may make me stick out. I’m going to wear my felt pom-pom necklace more because I love it and it makes me feel more like myself, more clothed with the sun. That sort of thing. More of the things I love, less of the things I keep around because they make me fit in better in the world.
- I have a small idea about dressing liturgically, color-wise. Within the liturgical church calendar, there are colors assigned to each season, each change in rhythm. If you have ever attended a liturgical church, you may have noticed the color of the priest’s vestments and the altar dressings, etc, all coordinating together to tell the story of the church year, to help prepare our hearts for what is ritually happening. There are certain days within the church year, like Good Friday specifically, when the congregation is asked to wear black and observe silence, things that I always try to take seriously, to let the practice seep into my heart. The color for Advent is blue. The color for Lent is purple. I have a small idea about letting this practice bleed into my ordinary life, about making clothes specifically for each season of the church calendar, using the color linked to that season as a guide for a color palette of clothing pieces to supplement basics I would wear all year, putting the seasonal clothes away for the year when it is time for the season to change. This would be more of a long-term project, something to not come at all-at-once, but to slowly work toward, add to.
I don’t know how many of these things I’m thinking about or hoping for will make it into my normal life, but the hunger is there. I want to wear sackcloth when I’m mourning and I want to literally wear the sun when I am full and joyful. I want to be full and joyful more than I am not. I’m writing all of this while in the car, driving between Indiana/Chicago and Wisconsin. The sun keeps nearly blinding me, popping out from behind Isaiah’s visor. It occurs to me that the sun is a hard thing to wear. The sun is hard to handle, too brilliant to behold, too much to even look at. The way God warned Moses to hide up atop Mt. Sinai, to not look at God’s face lest he would die, be dazzled into nothingness. I know, oh how I know of myself, that I can only manage glimpses. I cannot attain unto it, any of it. All too bright, too high, too wonderful, the things I want to fully see, because I want still to live in the world! I want still to be able to be seen! I want to be clothed with the sun, yes, but in an earthly way, in a human way. I want to carry only as much as is useful, whatever is not too dazzling. We won’t really be clothed with the sun till heaven, and how glorious that will be. To be fully dazzling, fully warm, fully radiant. Until then, something else. Until then, clothed with the moon, perhaps, the shadow-cousin of the sun, knowing what is someday coming my way. Wearing clothes on earth, walking in the world, a pedestrian among all the others, choosing garments and wearing them, dressing for work, trying my best, weeping and dancing, feeling small in Madewell and saying no to all that. My body is too beautiful, too precious to wear clothes that make me feel bewildered. I’d rather wear something either worn before, passed from hand to hand, or something made with hopeful hands, with secrets and prayers in each seam. That is how to be clothed with the sun while still on earth. That is, maybe, how I can keep going in the world, wearing clothes, spending my few dollars and my limited time, trying not to hurt anyone else in the process, loving the people I love, feeling the things I feel, trying to see and be seen, dazzling and being dazzled really all the time.