How I Became a (Bonnet-required) Plain-dressing Quaker (or Don't blame me, it's God's fault).I'm Isabel, friends sometimes call me Ibbie. I was born around 1970, earned a bachelor of fine arts in theater and followed that up with a master of fine arts in design in the mid '90s. I 'm what's called a convinced Friend. I was raised United Methodist but abandoned religious observance in college. Around 1998, I began feeling that God was calling me to him. The first hint was that whenever I saw a nun in any degree of habit, I would start shaking uncontrollably. Since I was working in a Catholic hospital, this was a Big Problem. It was a Big Problem because I couldn't explain it. I was married. I had no sense that I was supposed to become a nun, but it was more than a phobia, and it bothered me. I didn't like it. Then we moved, and I promptly put it out of my mind.
At that time my religion was a sort of feminism. The patriarchy of the mainline churches bothered me. I placed my concerns about the equality of women in the world (particularly myself) first. I distrusted my husband, assuming he was only looking out for himself and his male needs. The only church I felt comfortable in was a Unitarian Universalist congregation. But I found I could not sit through the service. The first time the congregation rose, I would rise with everyone else and then promptly walk out. I couldn't bear it. The stand up, sit down, hymns, call and response. I couldn't do it.
It was around this time that I also became obsessed with finding a bonnet, a particular style of bonnet, of which I had a very clear picture in my head. After several months of Googling thousands of pages deep for the word "bonnet," I found what I was looking for on a website about "prayer coverings." This discovery was quite disturbing to my feminist mind. And yet, I would wake up in the middle of the night and go to the website and moon over the bonnet. I felt possessed. I finally bought the black bonnet and a white cap, put them in the closet and breathed a sigh of relief.
Happily, I thought, there is no way I am called to the Mennonite or Amish faiths. With my technology-addicted husband, that would be as impossible as becoming a nun. But God was not done with me. I struggled and was afflicted. I felt that I was being ground down. I was in misery and despair. I knew it came from God and I knew no one could help me, that God was trying to tell me something and I had to discern it for myself. In particular Sunday mornings were difficult. I would open the yellow pages and run my finger down the list of churches. I sometimes even got in the car and drove to one, but when I got there I would just keep driving, drive all around, circling churches.
Every Sunday I would plan to go to a church. I felt strongly that God was trying to tell me something through this obsession with plain dress, so I found Mennonites and thought that perhaps this was what I was being led to. I got out of the car the first time, but when I got to the door there was a sign saying they were away at an all-church retreat. The next two Sundays in a row I got in my car and drove right past the church. It just didn't feel right. I was feeling more and more frantic.
Finally, one Sunday morning, I woke up at my wit's end. I had had it. I was done. I walked the two steps from my bed to a chair, sat down in some anger and said to God, okay, this is it, if you have something to say, say it, otherwise I am just going to sit here. And then God came. My fury turned to the most incredible sense of peace. I picked up a library book sitting next to the chair that I had renewed three times only to avoid reading again and again. It was a book mostly on Catholic spiritual retreat centers, but it fell open to an entry for a Quaker retreat center. In that one large moment, I Knew The Truth. All my stressing and straining, all my plotting and planning, all my thoughts and notions, all were for nothing. I was Supposed To Be a plain-dressing Quaker, a convinced Christian witness to God's mercy and love in this life.
I knew nothing about being a Quaker, nothing about being a plain-dressing Quaker, nothing about being a plain-dressing Quaker Christian. Yet I knew this was my Path, for good or for ill. In that large moment - my Convincement, I came to understand that Jesus was my Inward Teacher and Guide. I was humbled. I submitted in joyous obedience. I learned I was loved by God completely, and began to learn how to love and be loved. I had some plain dresses made and began wearing them after work and on weekends, with the cap and bonnet out of the closet and on my head. I sat alone in waiting worship. After a few months of solitary observance, I attended a local unprogrammed Meeting. A liberal meeting, they proved wary but ultimately welcoming, and I became a member. I changed my job so I could wear plain dress, and I began wearing plain dress all day every day. I learned that my wonderful husband is completely and utterly trustworthy, and thank God every day that he suffered so patiently through my original inability to trust him, my inability to love or be loved. Every day I learn more about the great loving-kindness of God and his large hopes for me and others in this life.
I'm not the only one. Read about fellow Quaker women called to the plain dress witness.
NOW concerning them that do go to the Quarterly Meeting, they must be substantial Friends, that can give a Testimony of your Sufferings, and how things are amongst you in every particular Meeting. So that none that are raw or weak, that are not able to give a Testimony of the Affairs of the Church and Truth, may go on behalf of the particular Meetings to the Quarterly Meetings, but may be nursed up in your Monthly Meetings, and there fitted for the Lord's Service . . . for the ...