A Pondering Table: Cherishing the Hidden Veil

These precious images are a set of four Japanese Madonnas, they make up a kakejiku (hanging picture), where one shows one of the images for the current season. So the image up top is the one for spring, since that's the current season. And (in order), summer, autumn and winter are below (press for closeups). All that's known is that they were painted by the Carmelite Nuns of Tokyo, Japan...the actual nun there who is the artist has remained humbly anonymous, much like traditional icon makers . And she works much like traditional icon makers do too, as described so beautifully here:

"When asked how long it took her to paint an original Madonna, the cloistered nun responded: 'It is difficult to compute the hours spent on each painting, as the time of work is cut up by hours of prayer, and dispersed throughout the day.'...

As the Carmelite nun paints, she is silent with her thoughts. And if you study her beautiful images with this same gentle quietness, almost assuredly you will be able to hear her messages of hope and peace for the whole world."

I post these images, not only because of their incredible sacred beauty, but because of a reaction to them, following.....

As some of you know, i’ve been on a kind of veiling journey, with both myself and my fiance being drawn to that lovely scriptural tradition of a woman head covering. Whether we are actually obligated to veil today or not, i've heared so many mixed things there i hardly know what to think. But whether it is obligated or not, either way it really beckons as a wonderfully sacred and feminine thing. And yet... somehow i've had a hard time actually doing it, so far anyway. Part of it is that there is SO much derision and dismissal out there for those who veil, and though some would say that shouldn’t matter, frankly it can be quite hurtful and kind of paralyzing.

After being upset by the latest dismissal of the veil i'd heard, was praying for guidance. When i came across these images co-in-see-dance-ally afterwards, really had the feeling they were an answer to the prayer somehow, the healing direction i must much need. And when Ave Maria came on the radio (surprising on a secular station) and a sweet pair of hawks circled outside the kitchen window soon after, felt like an affirmation there. Anyway, here is what these images had immediately evoked: This Madonna IS wearing a veil, even though she has no physical head covering on her head.

To back up a bit here, what had bothered me most on this latest dismissal of the veil i'd read the other day was it's saying veiling was merely a cultural rather than a sacred practice, and that even the image of women as brides doesn’t necessarily include veil-ness. That goes to the archetypal level i feel, a tearing away of what is so deeply a part of femininity....that feminine veiling. There is, absolutely, something archetypal and sacred about a woman's veiling i feel, being veiled in some way feels like a core part of the feminine soul. Eve herself was "veiled" from the beginning in a very deep sense...for she was Adam's rib, surrounded by Adam as she was his rib, just like a woman is surrounded by a veil. To me the veil is about two things, much related: being under that headship, and developing a "meek and quiet spirit"...both so very core to femininity. So to say that veiling is not a part of femininity, and not sacred, is just so untrue.

But here’s the other layer. Eve for example, I’m guessing she knew, a least on some level, that she was Adam’s rib, knew she was “veiled” in her very nature. So maybe she didn’t need a physical head covering on her head to both remind her, and those around her, of that fact (or so they both perhaps thought anyway...we all know what happened there in the garden as Adam just stood there and watched Eve's exposure to Satan, which sure wasnt a veiled moment!). But as time went on and this “veiled nature” of a woman was even less and less aware of or respected perhaps, maybe we really did need a concrete reminder, a physical tangible veil....needed it ”because of the angels” as Paul had said. And not just a reminder for the woman herself but for the men around her too. In that discussion i was following (which was on a smaller form of veiling, simply using a veil in church), one man’s comment really jumped out, below:

“Maybe instead (of grand theological arguments), we should focus on the little things in our efforts to live a virtuous life and evangelize our culture, in which case the chapel veil says something very big, does it not?...and to think it is so small. But that's the beauty of the Faith-- such "small" things can say so much!

As a man, let me say this: when my fiancee wears her veil, it reminds me, perhaps more than anything and especially as I pray and ponder at Mass, that she is my bride. How important that is to me because I know there are and will be many times when I will not treat her as such. I need that reminder, and as often as possible! :) ”

The precious veil is a reminder to a woman that she is a bride, regardless of earthly marriage or not ("for thy Maker is thine husband)... a bride meant to be protected (veiled) under headship, a bride meant to have a meek and quiet spirit. And at the same time, the veil is so beautifully a reminder to men that they are to husband (to truly provide headship, to provide, guide and protect). How much more sacred can one get?

I love so much when a women wears a physical veil, and may do so myself one day. That tangibility of an actual physical veil is a true gift, and some of us really do need that tangibility to keep our focus in the right place. And yet i look at sacred images like this, and see another kind of veil too, and one just as profound. For here, Mary’s lovely meek and quiet spirit is so deep that it has truly veiled her, even without a veil of cloth....and that “hidden veil" of hers impacts not just herself but those who see her. Is there any man who could look truly prayerfully at such an image and not feel his own protective instincts come to the fore for those he is meant to care for? Or any woman who could live with such a “hidden veil” like this image shows and not be impacted by it in her manner and very way of living?

Many of us need more concreteness. And so having a more tangible nice lacey head covering, one we can actually see and touch, makes such good sense. And yet i'm also coming to feel that its also not the only way to veil. Veiling is at the heart of femininity, a truly sacred thing. So sacred a thing that it becomes no less sacred even when seeing there is more than one way to veil....

(These beautiful sacred images are by the Carmelite Nuns of Tokyo.

In order they are:
Madonna of the Cherry Blossoms (spring)
Madonna of the Bamboo Grove (summer)
Madonna of the Moon (autumn)
Madonna of the Snow (winter)

The images can be found
here and more images are also here)

(added later: This is maybe more just a "note to self" here.... In the veiling discussion there was a comment that felt to go the heart of things, "So if laywomen do not make that same total consecration of a religious sister, but nonetheless consecrate their life to Christ in their role as laywomen (as I'm sure you'd agree they should), wouldn't the veil be an appropriate and meaningful symbol of that lay consecration? ....A bride first and foremost vowed to Christ?"

Anyway, her name was Maria but i found myself calling her Therese for some reason. It felt like a co-in-see-dance, like maybe a prompting that St Therese's example is key here or something. And of course St Therese was a Carmelite, just like the artist of these lovely images is as well)

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