A few days ago I was at the post office, and as I was waiting in line a woman entered the line behind me wearing a burka. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I heard the woman speak. She sounded like a young American teenager. Though I hadn’t intentionally thought about it, my subconscious had told me entire story about this woman triggered only by my seeing her burka – the story of a Muslim woman who’s come from the Middle East, and probably speaks English as a second language. I was shocked when I heard no hint of an accent in her voice, let alone any sign that she wasn’t 100% fluent in English.
I decided to pray for the woman as I left the post office. I began by confessing to God my prejudice. But I was quickly challenged by God. I could feel God saying (not audibly, but in a spiritual way), “Is prejudice what you really need to confess? You made assumptions about who she was that were false. That much is correct. But you didn’t make any judgments or conclusions about her value out of those assumptions. You don’t need to confess prejudice. Confess the veils.”
I hadn’t made any value judgments about this woman based on her burka. But I did allow her burka to keep me from knowing who she really is. Granted, that is in a sense the purpose of a burka. They’re veils that prevent people from fulling “knowing” who’s behind them. When chosen freely by a woman, a burka or other form of a veil is a form of modesty. But veils can also be a form of hiding, maybe even distorting who we really are. (For the record, I’m not suggesting the woman in the post office was attempting to “hide” or “distort” herself, only that a person could if they wanted to.)
Of course, this is something we’ve all done at some point or another. We “dress for success” in a way that makes us look like we have it all together to veil the deeper feeling that our life is in shambles. We put on airs of confidence, sarcasm or carelessness to veil feelings of pain or fear. We may add some helpful rhetorical devices to our speaking, veiling the selfishness or hate that’s behind our words. In these instances, we miss out on being more fully known by those around us. We miss out on deeper friendships, and being more fully loved.
My church and community are in a season when veils are very tempting to put on. The start of the new academic year means that many new people are moving to the neighborhood. The Upper Room is constantly welcoming new people; Graduate Christian Fellowship is too. When our social circles change significantly, whether as the newcomer or as the welcomer, becoming someone we’re not is all too easy. We can cover up our weaknesses, heartbreak, struggles, fears and brokenness, and try being the person we’d rather be without going through the hard work of transformation. These veils prevent genuine friendship and community from happening.
Pursuing genuine friendship and community means going “behind the veils.” It means dropping our own veils, and creating a safe place for others to drop theirs. When we do so, we’ll give one another the gift of being fully known, and fully loved.