Speaking of Bonnets and Head Coverings

My friend, Shirley Hershey Showalter, has done a thought-provoking blog post called Mennonite Bonnet and Covering Stories in preparation of the joint talk she and I have scheduled for next Tuesday, February 25, in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. This talk is sponsored by the Milanof-Schock Library and will be held at the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. We are going to be speaking about what wearing head coverings meant to us when we were growing up. 

I believe a head covering is a symbol and I don’t think we can analyze it separately from what it symbolizes… usually belonging and community. In a culture (mainstream America) in which hyperindividualism is the religion of the day, the meaning of the symbol of the covering is lost. There are basically two kinds of cultures — those based on the individual and those based on community. We can only view this question through the lens of the culture we are part of. Let’s face it… we have all coveted the sense of community that the Amish have. And yet we don’t want to make the sacrifices that it would take to become part of that community. There are days when I would gladly don my Amish covering to feel a part of an Amish quilting or community event. But being Amish and wearing the covering to show that you are, is not a part-time thing. The Amish preachers used to say, “You are either Amish or not… there is no in-between.” They have a point… you can have the freedom of an individual, or else you have to sacrifice your personal freedom to be part of the community. That usually involves some kind of symbol to show that you are part of the group.

Of course, the "kopp" as we called it, is more than just a symbol of belonging. It also carries spiritual meaning. In the PBS film, "The Amish: Shunned," that aired on American Experience two weeks ago, Naomi Kramer, one of the seven people whose stories this film followed, had something really interesting to say about coverings. She reminded me of how I used to feel in the early years after I left the Amish. That was more than thirty years ago, but I was reminded of that feeling when I heard Naomi articulate her feelings: 

It was really hard for me to not wear my covering at first. It’s kind of rooted in us that you wear a head covering for prayer and to signify submission. And for the longest time even after I wore street clothes I still had a covering beneath my pillow that I would use to pray, because it was kind of like I didn’t think God could hear me unless I had my head covered.


A side note here: for anyone who has not seen the film and you want to stream it live from the American Experience website, you can do that for free…. until March 4, and then it goes away. I have heard from so many people who echo my sentiments about the film: that it is extremely well done. The cinematography is breathtaking. So you'll not want to miss it!

Before my talk with Shirley Showalter in Mt. Joy on Tuesday next week, David and I have three other talks scheduled. Tomorrow evening at 6 PM, we'll be speaking at the North Adams Public Library in Massachusetts. On Saturday, we'll be speaking at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in New Jersey at 2 PM. And then on Sunday, we'll be speaking at the Springfield Public Library, also in New Jersey. For a full schedule of events, you can visit the events page of my website. I hope to see my loyal readers at one or more of these events.

Thank you, as always, for your readership. If you have any comments or questions about wearing coverings and bonnets, please feel free to share them. And for those who are interested in knowing when we'd wear coverings and when we'd wear both the coverings and the bonnets, there is an explanation on the Amish Customs page of my website, with my niece, Leanna, modeling them.

My niece, Leanna Mast,
wearing a covering and a bonnet

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9 thoughts on “Speaking of Bonnets and Head Coverings”

  1. I just watched the American Experience film, Saloma. Very well done. Your own story, intertwined with Anna’s, is poignant and beautiful. When she again puts on the kopp and bonnet, I could feel your sorrow and your support for her at the same time. No one could understand better than you the pull of the community under those “bonnet strings.”

    I know we will have a lively and meaningful conversation next Tuesday night.

    I hope some of our friends reading these words can join us.

    1. Shirley, thank you for your thoughts on the film. Anna’s story has touched many hearts, and she has no way of knowing that… it makes me miss her so much. And yet, like you said, I know the pull of the strings. Like you, I hope our friends will join us for our discussion about coverings and community on Tuesday next week.

  2. When you mentioned Naomie’s comment about no longer wearing a head covering I remember having the same experience, after leaving the Catholic Church and no longer crossing myself before and after praying. It seemed as if my prayer was incomplete. The crossing of one’s self held the following meaning: when the fingers were placed on the forehead- “Lord, be in my mind.” When the fingers we’re placed over the heart: “Lord, be in my heart.” When the fingers were placed on each shoulder: “Lord, be my strength.”
    Interesting how each culture has its physical ways of relating to God.

    1. Fran, I love your last line, about how each culture has its physical ways of relating to God. I never thought of it that way, but it’s very true. My husband is Catholic and he never explained it to me that way. I like that. And yes, the head coverings have had meanings in many religions and cultures.

      Thank you for your insights.

  3. I checked your events page. I hope to make one of the WI talks.
    I know how Naomi felt when she no longer had to use her head covering. It was the exact same for me when I left the Catholic church and no longer had to cross myself/do the sign of the cross before and after praying. I wondered if God picked up the receiver or if I had been disconnected.
    One of the positive things about crossing myself was the meaning of it.
    “God, be in my thoughts/mind.” (When one touches the forehead with their finger(s).) “Be in my heart.” (When the chest is touched.) “And be my strength.” (When each of the shoulders is touched.) My husband, who has never been Catholic, finds depth in crossing himself so he does it.

  4. Wish I could be at Mt Joy when both of you are there, but that won’t happen. After spending part of today with a tour bus and answering their question about the copp or coverings they saw in this crowd of people who were waiting for the Pioneer Trails buses to come in, I now wish I could have handed them a his blog which is the most accurate explanation of community/head coverings etc. Thank you for this post.

    1. Katie, thank you for your affirmation of the meaning of community and head coverings among the Amish. I also wish you could have been at the talk in Mt. Joy. I know our paths will cross someday. And I look forward to that! Enjoy your green grass down in the warm state of Florida. We are freezing up here in the north tonight! Have a wonderful weekend.

  5. Saloma,
    I don’t know how I ended up with two comments saying the same thing when I thought one didn’t go through. Well, you live, you learn.
    I just wanted to add, what a sense of peace in knowing what your life’s work is. Though you don’t see everything in front of you at least you know you’re on the right track. I long for the day when I can say, “This is my life’s work.” Right now there just seems to be a void where I’m sure something should be. It’s been difficult but today I realized, as I was listening to music, that God is with me. It was just a sense he blanketed me in. It makes all the difference in the world knowing this.
    I enjoy your blog so much. Thank you for taking the time to share yourself and your gifts with us. Blessings.

    1. Hello Fran,

      The comments go through mediation, so they don’t show up until I approve them. That’s likely why you thought that one hadn’t gone through. I agree… there is a sense of peace to know when you are doing your life’s work. I have no doubt that you will find yours. I would think it would involve communications, because you are so good at them. Even though I feel like I am doing what I need to be doing, there is a constant reassessment that happens. Our cross-country trip is not happening, for instance, for lack of being able to pull it all together. And so I figure God has something else in mind for me. Sometimes that is hard for me… not knowing what that might be. I wish you all the best in finding your vision. If ever you want to work with the best life-coach ever to help you clarify your vision, Melita DeBellis is really good. You can find her website here: http://www.midlifeunlimited.com/page.cfm?page=36

      Blessings to you, Fran.

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