Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On clothing

Colossians 3:12 ...Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

It occurred to me this evening that clothing may be an under-examined aspect of a.) the human experience, and b.) the bible. Mostly the latter has interested me. So I thought about it:

Adam and Eve, if we are to take the book's word for it, fashioned clothing in a last-ditch attempt to hide the shame of the reality that they were human. The first humans, in the very moment they became human, found their most pressing need to be that of clothing - of a covering for what should not be exposed. Was it not also a shield between their real selves and the world that they now understood? Was it not a shelter from all that wounds and, therefore, did they not ultimately see themselves as the first wounded ones?

I have selected a verse above that also encourages clothing, but this kind is more ethereal. If this is the "clothing" we are encouraged to stretch over our heads and tuck in around our waists, what of the clothing that we shed? Earlier we are urged to shed "all such things as these: anger, rage malice, slander and filthy language..." We clothe ourselves also in these things, I wager, because in our minds they do quite a bit better at protecting us than mercy or humility ever could. I shield myself from others with pride; I am ruthless and grace-less because these qualities shield me from my shame, from nakedness. They keep me from seeing the mirror; they keep others from seeing inside me.

What if we put on these new clothes, then? How can I be shielded by gentleness, kindness, compassion? Are these not attitudes that make one vulnerable, more accessible instead of defensible? Which is the natural clothing?

We clothe ourselves, if it is up to us, with that which will shelter, protect and cover. Following the line of Adam and Eve, who taught us well, we cower behind malice, blind hatred and cynicism. Shame cowers there, too, and it is not exposed for its cowering. Our shame, which is that we are failures, that we are those lost flounderers who lay at the mercy of the world, is too much to bear exposure. We brace ourselves against that harshness with our own version of it, but inside are we not still beating hearts and wide, blinking eyes before it all?

Putting on new clothes, then, seems a kind of re-veiling of that vulnerability in such a way that it exposes us to all. And yet, in the end, all are also exposed by it. All who will receive that compassion, mercy, and kindness must too perceive their own selves as they are.

New clothes, transparent clothes, and now, finally, we have become who we were all along.

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