Why do you have that thing on your head?

Why do you have that thing on your head?

I cover my head when I pray. I’ve been asked if I was trying to become an Amish woman, I’ve been accused of mocking women who wear Kapps and kerchiefs at all times. I’m not attempting to do either of those things, and for women who see me wearing a cover, whether I’ve pinned it to my hair for the day, or just quickly put it over my head when I pray, I am honestly not mocking, or imitating or trying to insult you. For those who see me cover and feel offended, or sense some sort of judgment in the action, I apologize, that is not my intent at all, and I mean no disrespect. I’ve been warned not to “bind” it on any other woman, or push it at others. I do not at all mean to. I’ve been met with curious stares, and believe it or not, even hostility over that little scrap of cloth. But, the cover that I wear, that is between me and God, and no offense, it has nothing at all to do with another individual. That wasn’t always so, and I’ll explain that in a bit. If I was worried what other Christian men and women thought, I probably wouldn’t have it on my head ever. I prefer to blend into the background usually, and nothing catches people’s eye like tossing a kerchief, a ball cap, or even a napkin in a bind, up over one’s head every time someone starts praying. Considering that family events are pretty much always church events for our family, that’s a lot of praying.

If I haven’t bored you to tears just in that little paragraph, read on, and I can promise you’ll at least have an academic understanding of why I do cover for prayer. It has become so special and important to me, and because of the curiosity it seems to generate, I feel like it’s about time I write it out. I think better when I’m writing than when I’m speaking, so this has to end up making more sense than if I tried to explain it to anyone face to face.

I have a pretty simple notion of Christian philosophy. To answer the question “why do you have that thing on your head?” I have to explain my very simple view on being a Christian.

There’s this amazing book. It’s called the Bible. Some people say that the Bible is a bunch of interesting myths and legends meant to teach us valuable moral lessons, but that they are not of course, really true or anything like that. Sort of an Aesop’s Fables on steroids. Others say it is just a lot of crackpot stories someone threw together to generate fear and gain mind control over people. For me, the Bible is the true, inspired word of God. That’s it. That’s all. Just the 100% true, divinely inspired word of God. Oh, I know there are books of history and poetry and prophecy and love stories and instruction and law. But it all boils down to the simple, absolutely true, divine word of God. Simple.

Now, because I believe that the Bible is the word of God, and because I make a conscious choice to serve God, (even though I fail sometimes) I believe that I should do what the Bible says to do. Because I take the Bible at it’s word, I understand that I don’t have to keep the three hundred odd prickly commandments that were given before Christ’s death on the cross, (although the principles in them are sound as guidance,) and that we as Christians who do not live under the law given to Moses, are required to keep the teachings and commands given us in the New Testament.

That’s the whole thing behind being a Christian for me. Want to serve God. Read Bible. Do what Bible says. So far pretty simple, right?

So what on earth does that have to do with putting a scrap of fabric, or a napkin, or a hat on my head when I pray?

Well, when the Bible, in particular the New Testament, declares that we must do or not do something, then I know I am to obey that. Some are pretty general. Love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be a neighbor to those in need. Be honest. Don’t be a party animal. Live quietly, and circumspectly. Obey the law of your land. Then there are some more specific ones. If you’re a husband love and care for your wife like you love and care for your own body. If you’re a wife, respect and obey your husband. (That “obey” one is really rather tough for me, but I’m working on it.) If you’re a parent, teach and train your children in God’s will, don’t provoke and discourage them. If your a child in your parents’ home, obey them. If you’re a child out of your parents’ home, respect and honor them. Repent of your sins, and be baptized into Christ’s death for the remission of your sins. Make melody from your heartstrings, not guitar strings. If you “burn with passion,” get married. Be faithful. Worship God, not religion. Serve God, not man made entities. And then there is this one. Because it’s the main topic of this missive, I’m going to actually quote the Bible here, rather than write in generalities.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

7 A man ought not to cover his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

This whole thing came about while my husband and I were visiting his parents in Washington State last summer. I was having some serious lower back troubles, as I’m prone to do when sleeping in any bed that is not my own. My husband’s family is very devoted to being Christian people, something I’m very grateful for, and my mother-in-law decided that they needed to anoint my head and pray over me, after watching me struggle and hurt for several days. Wait…. Anoint? You want to anoint my head with oil? I didn’t say anything, but apparently the look I directed at my husband spoke volumes. I was thinking something like “what next? Snake handling?” OK, not exactly, but near enough. In my experience in church, I had never heard of or seen anyone being anointed with oil and prayed over. Well, they directed me to a passage in James 5: 14&15. It says:

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up

Well, lookie there! I had never noticed that before! Honestly I had always thought that anointing heads with oil had gone out with burnt offerings and blood sacrifices. ([Valley girl says:]That was so Old Testament, uhg!) But, here it was, a plain, simple directive in the New Testament. So, referring to my simple Christian philosophy, I said, OK, lets do it. Surely God can fix what ibuprofen has not! Would you believe, the next morning when I got up, I could move more easily, more comfortably? By the afternoon I was feeling limber again, and I was not in anything like pain. What a neat thing! Obey God, get relief! I was pretty pleased. And I made a point of thanking and praising God for the relief too. And no, I don’t think it was like a magic trick, or the whole God-is-a-vending-machine, “put in prayer, get results”, kind of thing, just so we’re clear.

Well, this sparked a whole discussion that ebbed and flowed over several days. Richard’s family and my family are from two different church groups, and agree on many things, but on others the two church groups do not. Richard said he agreed with the idea that we should “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.” But, he wondered, why do we in our church group, not then obey ALL the directives in the New Testament? Why hadn’t I known we were to anoint and pray over the sick? And why, he wanted to know, didn’t the women cover their heads to pray? I asked him what he meant, and he showed me 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Of course I had read it before, but in all honesty I had never read it in the context of it being a directive, an instruction for correct behavior by Christians. It was, sadly, just something that I read. I felt mightily silly. My husband seemed quite pleased with his question to me. Richard does like to get zingers in on folks every now and again, and usually my Bible knowledge is a few paces ahead of his, so he was really relishing this. I’m not sure he expected the response he got, however. The question was something like “If you’re really going to speak when it speaks, and be silent when it’s silent, then why do you pick and choose what to obey and when?”


I don’t want to say too much here that might embarrass my dear husband, so I will leave it at saying that my husband was at that time, a recent re-convert to Christianity. He had taken a bit of a sojourn on some other paths, and he had been back “in the fold” for only a little more than a year. He was still sort of feeling things out as he reconfirmed what he believed and rejected what he knew was not Biblical.

Given that history, and my earnest desire to help him on that path, as well as my own commitment to be a Godly, Biblically submissive wife (which my very independent nature bucks against all the time,) I immediately went to the car, and tied a kerchief to my head. I was driving with the windows open in the heat, so I had some on hand to try and keep my hair a little neat. I tied it on my head, put a couple of bobby pins in it to hold it in place, and have worn a head covering of some kind since, whenever we pray. For a while I wore one from the time I woke up, until after we prayed at bedtime. Now, more often than not, I just quick pull a cover from my purse, and cover my head while we pray, and take it back off afterward.

Richard was the other individual I mentioned being involved. At first I did it to obey him, and to live up to my declarations about speaking and being silent. Since then, it has become an important expression, a very special expression of my submission to God. You see, now, when I pray, I don’t just follow along in the service, or habitually bow my head and go through the motions of praying while my head is elsewhere, making a shopping list, or planning tomorrow’s lunch. I think before I pray, I remember who is my head, my boss. God. I start off every time I pray in an act of submission to HIM, in obedience to a simple directive that is very often over looked. I start off remembering to whom I am speaking. Who HE is, and who I am in the big picture. That has made a huge difference to me, as I pray.

Over time, as I have really thought about it, and prayed about it, and lived it, I have learned a great deal about being submissive to God, and my husband both. Richard is my head, my boss, because GOD made it that way. So, if I want to be obedient to God, I need to be obedient to Richard. I have learned that in my submission to Richard, I am serving God. And I have learned that being a submissive wife, and a submissive daughter of God is beautifully rewarding. Of course, as I said above, I do better some days than others with the whole submissive gig. I have a fiercely, perhaps even confrontational type of independent nature, and submission to anyone or anything is very, very hard for me. But among other lessons I have learned this past year, I have learned that to be submissive does not mean giving up who I am, or what I am. It means putting myself in my rightful place in the earthly chain of command. I am not some flunky or hanger on. I am my husband’s wife. His partner. His right hand. And my husband honors me as those things. He doesn’t always give in to me, and I really have to admire him for that. (See confrontationally independent above.) But he does care for me, and put my needs and wants up there with his own.

I mentioned rewarding. When I am managing submitting my nature to God’s will, I am always at my happiest. There is a tremendous peace and calm that comes from submitting my will to God. Another phrase for submitting, in my opinion, is to trust someone completely to have your best interest at their very heart, and to know that that individual will do everything, anything, to be very, very caring; to look after both physical and emotional needs. Peace is an amazing reward. I am not claiming that I have don’t have days that are stressful, and that I am skipping around fields of poppies, dancing and singing all the merry day through. (Yeah… No.) But I am saying my best days are when I take time to remember where I am in the grand scheme of things, and remember to submit my will to my husband and to God.

I could pick those verses apart as some in my particular faith group have done. (Really? Because I thought we were to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.) In particular, verse six is pretty clear “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” I don’t see a lot of wiggle room around that. I have been told that because Paul uses the word “teachings” or “practice” in the passage that it means Paul is speaking about a passing local custom. Well, wanting to be sure I wasn’t being silly, I did look it up. I’m not a Greek scholar, but I do look things up sometimes to clarify them for my own purposes. My source is the Blue Letter Bible. The word for “teachings” or “tradition” in the Greek root is:

παράδοσις paradosis

1) giving up, giving over

a) the act of giving up

b) the surrender of cities

2) a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc.

a) objectively, that which is delivered, the substance of a teaching

b) of the body of precepts, esp. ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations, which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, as they did were to be obeyed with equal reverence

It is found in many other instances, but one other place in particular that may be pertinent to this discussion. It was in Matthew 15:2 when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “’Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,” he is not to “honor his father” with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Jesus goes on to call them out on telling people to put more stock in their traditions (paradosis) than in the word of God. He shoots from the hip, and tells them they are the worst kind of hypocrites.

So, I asked myself: Am I looking at this as a tradition that was made up by men, and making out that it is more important than the word of God? Well now wait a minute. The Pharisees had created a traditions that varied vastly in both spirit and practice from the Word of God. I am reading the inspired word of God, from the Bible. The words in 1 Corinthians 11 are very clear. So just because it’s the same Greek word, does that mean that all the events where paradosis shows up in scripture means that all the things connected with it are bad? Applying the test of divine inspiration, I must say no. If the words of Paul are inspired, then I must trust that they are ALL inspired, or God, who is after all, all powerful, would have arranged to not have them in the Bible. Either the words of the Bible are inspired or they are not. God who created heaven and earth could surely manipulate some words on a page. If I can trust Him with my life, afterlife and salvation, I can surely trust Him to put the right words in the Bible. OK, so my answer is, no, I am making the head covering a tradition more important than the word of God.

Also from ch.11, v.6,  Paul mentions the cover on a woman’s head and the hair of her head as two separate items. I have been told that the covering Paul is referring to in these verses is the hair on a woman’s head. But his use of if-then statements would suggest this view is not entirely logical. He says “If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off;…” Some have said that what he means is that if a woman has her hair cut like a man’s, she might as well shave it off. Ok, hold on here. If you look at the style of Paul’s time, men generally wore their hair about to their shoulders, not in the short cuts we generally think of as men’s hair cuts today. Very short, close cropped or even shaved hair on men was something done, in general, by soldiers or military leaders. It was aimed at preventing lice outbreaks among the troops, and encouraging camp sanitation, not to mention, it was easier to fight in hand to hand combat without hair in your face.  Look at this:

4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

“With his head covered…” So if the covering in this passage is simply a person’s hair, then a man needs to take his hair off while he prays? Now that’s just silly! Still… How often do you see men take off their hat, ball cap, whatever when they are involved in praying?

But, since I’m looking at words here, I took a look at what the concordance and Greek/Hebrew Lexicon showed in this verse pertaining to a man not covering his head. The phrase, according to the Blue Letter Bible goes like this:

11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having [his] head covered, dishonoureth his head.

11:4  πᾶς ἀνὴρ προσευχόμενος ἢ προφητεύων κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων καταισχύνει τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ

The word I wanted to really look at here is covered, or κατὰ

This one is a little confusing if you’re just looking at the definition of this preposition which is:

1) down from, through out

2) according to, toward, along

According to Thayer’s Lexicon it is: a preposition denoting motion of diffusion or direction from the higher to the lower; as in class. Grk,. join with the gen. and acc. (What are gen. and acc.?)

Like I said, I find this particular word is a bit confusing to me. What I do understand is that this word indicates the motion of one thing being put above another. So I looked for other examples of it in the scriptures. Here are a few I came across:

Mat 8:24 And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the boat was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
Mat 10:26 Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.

It is very clear here that “Cover” means that there is something on top of something else.

Why all this parsing on two such simple words? I mean really, covered and uncovered are pretty simple, plain, easy words to understand, right? Well, in normal circumstances, yes, they are. But it seems that in relation to these 16 verses in 1 Corinthians 11, those two words seem to cause some really complicated problems.

Now, I wanted to look at the word in verse 5, the word that is the opposite of the one used in relation to men in verse 4.

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, the word uncovered is: akatakalyptos which has a very specific meaning. It is:

1) not covered, unveiled

Wow. That is pretty straight forward.

Then, in verse 6, the word cover is katakalyptō, which means:

1) to cover up

2) to veil or cover one’s self

So, now I wanted to read these verses again, having a little more understanding of what the words in them mean.

4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered (κατὰ-the action of having something over his head) dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered (akatakalyptos: not covered, unveiled) dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover (katakalyptō: her head, she might as well have her hair cut off (keirō: verb; 1) to sheer: a sheep 2) to get or let be shorn 3) of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head) but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved ), then she should cover (katakalyptō) her head.7 A man ought not to cover (katakalyptō) his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

As I mentioned above, I have been told that the covering here in these verses refers to a woman having long hair rather than the short hair of a man. Interestingly, verse 14 makes a very clear distinction between the long hair of a woman and the short hair of a man.

14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,

Here, “has long hair” is a phrase, which in Greek is the word komaō :

1) to let the hair grow, have long hair

This same greek word is used for our English phrase in verse 15:

15 but that if a woman has long hair (komaō), it is her glory? For long hair ( is given to her as a covering.

And there it is! The verse that starts the whole argument about whether or not long hair is what is meant by covering her head when she prays. Well, this is what I learned when I looked at the words used in Greek. The word used for “covering her head when she prays” is katakalyptō:verb; cover up; to veil or cover one’s self; katakalyptō is the action of putting on, so logically, can be taken off. The word here for covering in verse 15 is, peribolaion: neuter noun; 1) a covering thrown around, a wrapper a) a mantle b) a veil. The katakalyptō is an action, something that is done. Peribolaionis a noun, a thing that is. Peribolaion is static which can be thrown around, but the peribolaion itself is not an action, it is not removed, except by an action, which for example could be seen in the preceding verses as the word keirō: 1) to sheer: a sheep 2) to get or let be shorn 3) of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head.

In my opinion, Paul is addressing two separate but related rules of propriety and Godly conduct here, using the one (length of hair which denoted gender) to clearly explain and demonstrate the other. In his time, no man would grow his hair as long as a woman’s, it would be a shame to him. Neither would he veil himself or dress himself like a woman, that would be a shame to him. Just the same, a woman would not shorten her hair like a man’s nor would she dress like him; it would have been a shame to her.

Then, I looked at verse 16.

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.”

Here I looked at the word “practice”, which in some English versions of the Bible is printed as “custom”. In the Greek, it is:

συνήθεια synētheia. From a compound of σύν (with) and ἦθος ēthos

1) intercourse (with one), intimacy

2) custom

3) a being used to, accustomed

OK, so here Paul says “we have no other…” intimacy, custom. Intimacy? So what Paul describes in these verses is like a form of intimacy, or closeness with God? But then, I’ve heard some people state that because the word can mean “custom” it is clearly talking about that transient, local custom, and so women wearing a head cover is not what is meant for us here today. I pondered that, and as I did so, I decided to look at the root words for this synētheia

I’m not going to get into the word “with”. That’s pretty darn plain, and I don’t think it requires a lot of explanation. (Unless of course, you also do not know how to define “is”) So, I looked at the word:


1) a customary abode, dwelling place, haunt, customary state

2) custom, usage, morals, character

So doing what is described in these verses is or should be as familiar to me as my own home, or should be my customary state of being? That sort of seems like what the meaning is there. However, the words that really jumped out at me in this one were “morals” and “character”. To me, these words have come to define the “why”. Insert either of these alternate meanings into that sentence of Paul’s:

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other” morals “–nor do the churches of God.”

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other” character “–nor do the churches of God.”

Very interesting.

You know, even without all this parsing words (and splitting hairs) the sentence is plain. “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.” In modern language, it would seem that Paul is saying, “If folks want to argue about this, that’s their problem, but this is what we believe and do, and so do all the churches of God.” Also, Paul doesn’t put a limit on what churches of God he’s talking about here. He doesn’t say “until head covering goes out of style,” or “But that’s only until 1700 AD or so.” or “Until the women’s lib movement makes submission passé.”

Interestingly, no one ever argues with the notion that men ought to remove their hats when praying. I wonder why that is? No Men’s Liberation movement? Something to think about…

To me, if I am going to be obedient to the inspired word of God, I don’t get to parse it out, and decide which parts I am going to be obedient to. Either it is inspired or it isn’t. Which do I believe? Do I trust God to make His word clear and plain for me? Yes. So I obey. There is no other way for me.

Here is another verse that is often called out as being a matter of transient local custom.

1 Tim 2:11-12 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

Knowing my independent nature, you have to know this one was TOUGH for me to accept! All through my growing up, I was sure that I was meant to be a minister of the Gospel. And then BLAM! Here came this verse, and spoiled all my plans. I was livid! How dare God put this in the Bible! Didn’t He know that women were just as good as, just as valuable as men? (Of course he does, but that is another discussion.) And then I was told by some that this was nothing but a custom of the time, or that Paul was just hopeless misogynist, and this verse was proof of it, so this verse had no meaning for today. I swallowed that for a while. But then, about ten years ago, I began really examining what I believe about God and about the Bible. And I concluded what I’ve shared with you already. I trust God to make His word say what He needs it to say. I trust that God can rearrange the typesetter or word processor to correct mistakes made by man. I trust GOD. So I accept this also, as truth, even though it rubs me the wrong way. And I submit my flawed, selfish will to His perfect will.

It amuses me that often the same people who talk about how true and right this verse that addresses a woman’s submissive role is, look at the 6th and 16th verses of 1 Corinthians 11 and refuse to apply the same truth-o-meter to it.

The same could be said of the musical instrument argument (Well they didn’t have instruments of music, that’s the only reason New Testament time Christians didn’t use them), the baptism argument (They immersed people then, but it’s been tradition in our Church for centuries to just sprinkle, so…) the Lord’s Supper (Why do it every week? Our council says once a month is fine…)

Look, what it really comes down to is this. I do not wish to “bind” the wearing of a head covering on any other woman. Ladies, if you read the scripture that pertains to head covering, and you do not feel moved to cover your head when you pray, that is between you and the Lord. He will move your heart where He wants it, and you will answer His prodding. I did not write this to tell any other person why they should cover their head while praying. I wrote it to explain why I do. Maybe head covering isn’t for you. I am not setting myself up as your judge or any other person’s judge. My job is to measure myself, and make sure I don’t come up lacking. Because I want to be sure I’m being obedient, I will cover my head, even though it sometimes makes me feel silly, even though sometimes people stare. I will obey.

So, all these many words later, I have explained why I cover. Now, if you see me doing so, you’ll know why.

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