Friday, December 5, 2008


Hair can play a great role in denoting the roles of a person in a picture. Carefully quaffed, highly decorated hair may denote a very worldly person while other ways of wearing hair can denote quite the opposite. Loose flowing hair can be a sign of penitence. Call to mind the story in Luke 7 of the repentant woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears and the wiping with her hair. Hair unadorned such as this shows a person who is more focused in things eternal than of temporal things. But that does not mean to let it go wild either. We are told to "wash our faces and comb our hair" so as not to make a show of our fasting. Therefor hair that is wholly disheveled is a sign of great distress.

Hair that is covered can be a sign that one is not available for courtship. In many cultures throughout history married women covered their hair giving the same message to would be suitors that a ring would give. This is one reason for a sister's veil - she is married to God.

A tonsure is a bit of hair cut off from the crown of the head, large or small (I have a natural one) used by clerics and brothers to denote a renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.

Beards have a long and tangled history. At times for clerics they were expressly forbidden. A cleric was known in parts of the world by his distinct lack of a beard. At one time it was thought that the beard was directly nourished by the "superfluous desires of the stomach" and thus a long beard was a symbol of excessive earthly desires. But being symbolic, symbols change. In some cases now a beard is a direct hint that someone is a brother or cleric.

A beard being a sign of virility (another reason clerics were often directed to shave or have short beards) it was an absolute insult for someone to shave or pluck your beard. The fact that Jesus' beard was plucked was more than just for the pain of it but was a direct insult to who he was as a man. Conversely the plucking of one's own beard then was a sign of deep anguish. Hair today, gone tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I am one who reads between the lines, so I've always felt that a ragtag bunch of beefy well-fed state thugs into whose hands our poor Jesus was delivered via the Praetorium, not only spared Him no insult, but no degree of insult, including the hands-on personal ones. Every time I read that part of the Sorrowful Scriptural rosary, the coming pain and humiliation, my insides seize up. Most all these things were actually prepared for us.. but He took it on, and when they encountered His Messiah *charge* --truly unique -- it was all the more fodder for their abuses.

This ties in not with symbols, but a deep symbolism. There are no deep personal insults against us in this life that Jesus Himself did not undergo. Isaiah called it rightly, didn't exaggerate a bit. Whatever has been done to any of us, has been done to Jesus; hence, He is in that moment with us. We should take solace in that. If anything was stolen from us, Jesus is right there replacing it.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting--thanks for the quick lesson.