What's in your closet?

It's Monday, and it's time to learn from the monastics. Today's lesson is about what we wear. Is what you wear in line with who you are trying to be?

St. John Cassian
John Cassian (c. 360-436) was a Christian monk who wrote influential books about the monastic life. His book Institutes is a description of monasticism. He starts Institutes not with a discussion of prayer or fasting or reading Scripture but with clothing.

Why clothing? Because Cassian wants you to be able to visualize the monk on the outside before talking about the monk on the inside -- his attitudes and heart.

Cassian describes the underwear, robe, hood, tunic, cords, cape, and goatskin covering worn by most monastics of his day. Without going into all the detail of their dress, here are the principles of monastic dress.

First and foremost, what you wear should be in line with who you are trying to become. A monk wanted to put to death pride and vanity, and become a person wholly devoted to God. Therefore, it was important to do away with clothing that was showy either by being too colorful or fancy on one hand (the vanity of fancy clothing is obvious), or too threadbare or stained on the other (as if one were trying to say, "Look, everyone! Look how I deny myself!").
Lesson for us: We should be as clear as possible about who we are trying to become. If we are Jesus-followers, then we should wear whatever is in keeping with his guidance in our lives. It would be a good idea to go through our closets prayerfully, allowing Jesus to speak to us about what we are are wearing.
Second, consider wearing articles of clothing that carry symbolic meaning. You know why monks wear hoods? In those days, children wore hoods. A monk would wear a hood to "preserve the simplicity and innocence of little children by imitating their actual dress." There is symbolic meaning to pretty much every article of clothing on a monk's body.
Lesson for us: If certain articles of clothing or pieces of jewelry help us remember that we belong to Jesus and not to the world, then it might be a good idea to wear them.
Monks have always been very intentional about what they wear. I dare say most of us are a lot less intentional. John Cassian causes me to ask some good questions about what I wear.


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