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The Prayer Cap
by Francis Clare Fischer
The Prayer Cap is a covering worn by women. Such coverings are often worn by Amish, Mennonite and plain Quaker women. Such a covering is worn for Biblical reasons. It is an ancient Christian practice which receives strong endorsement in modern plain, primitive and reform Christian movements.
Many modern religious groups which promote head covering for women call this covering simply a "veiling" or "covering." While there are certainly Biblical precedents for using these terms I have always been touched by the term "prayer cap." This very old term denotes both the life of prayer that Christ calls us to in bidding us to "pray always," as well as Paul's direction that women cover their heads in prayer.
We cover our heads because we indeed endeavor to "pray always." I know of one woman who wears a prayer cap to bed because she wakes at night in prayer and, wonderfully, finds herself in prayer while she dreams. What a deep sense of ever abiding prayer these dreams are! And what a testament to a life lived in prayer her nightly prayer cap has become.
The term "prayer cap" is not one I use lightly. It is a statement of a life intention. It is a yearning for daily consecration to our Lord. It is as profound an expression of the devout life as is any religious habit worn by a nun. Indeed a women I know who has lived much of her adult life in a Catholic community, perhaps quite unconsciously, refers to my prayer cap and simple dress as a "habit."
Why do women wear the prayer cap? First as I said, it is in answer to Paul's request that women cover their heads when they are in prayer (1 Cor. 11:5). Why do we wear the prayer cap all day long? Because Christ called us to "pray always" (Luke 18:1). We are, as Christians, to make our very lives prayer. For many years now I have spoken at an area High School about the plain Quakers. I am often asked by an inquisitive student just how we "pray always." I answer that as a Quaker prayer comes from a depth of quiet and that the quiet of our hearts is a state of listening for God's voice, and that this is a form of prayer. I also tell the students that historically there have been many ways that Christians have endeavored to "pray always." I discuss the ancient history of the use of repetitive prayer from the early desert hermits who kept track of their "Our Fathers" with a small pile of stones which were passed through their fingers with each repetition of the "Our Father," to the modern rosary with its roots deep in Medieval Marian piety. The "Jesus Prayer" so much a part of Russian folk religion is an enduring form of repetitive prayer.
I often ask the students for their insights into praying always. A timid hand sometimes goes up and the student tells me how just saying the name of Jesus is a prayer for her. And I tell them how very deep and profound such a prayer is and always has been for the Christian. Indeed it is a form of prayer Jesus Himself recommended (John 14:13). I am always touched at how spontaneously this prayer arises in the hearts of young people. And in the end, we come back to the use of the prayer cap. By the close of the discussion the students seem to have a very real appreciation for the Biblical calling to pray always and for women to cover their heads as they endeavor to live a life of prayer.
Is the modern woman called to wear the prayer cap? People have suggested to me that the prayer cap is not something needed by our modern women. It is something out of place in the modern world. But are we not in fact called to be out of place in the world? We are called to be a "peculiar people" (Tit. 2:14). We are called to be set apart; a people consecrated to Christ. We are called to answer the scriptures with a life lived, so far as we are given the light to do so, in conformity to Scripture and not to the the world. The prayer cap is a very real part of that conformity to the Scriptures.
It is a symbol, yes, but much more, the prayer cap is a way of life. It is a way of life that causes us to be out of step with the world and, we pray, in step with Christ. It is a way of life that calls us to remember each time we interact with another being, that upon our heads is a visible testament to a life of prayer. We must interact with those in the world from out of that life of prayer. The prayer cap calls us to communicate both with God and with all of His creation of of the depths of prayer.
If I am tempted to be impatient with a store clerk, my prayer cap calls me to patience. If I am tempted to judge the noisy teenager in the car pulsating with rock music, my prayer cap calls me to pray for this youngster. When I feel hurt by a rude neighbor, my prayer cap reminds me that the word "neighbor" is a holy word and denotes someone I must love, even when the loving is hard. And so I lift her up to Jesus. The prayer cap is more than a symbol, it is more than a statement, it is more than a tradition, it is a way of life. It is a way of life we are called to in Christ.
- printed by permission from the author