Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Understanding the Bible through clothes!

Hey there. Hi again, especially to the younger folks. As part of modern culture becoming so different from Biblical times, even some obvious info is missing nowadays that older folks would have been cool with. So here's a fun and essential part of backfilling that knowledge that you all need to understand a frequent reference in the Bible.

In Biblical times in the Holy Land people basically wore really loose wraps of fabric around their body, held together and in place with a belt. There was usually an under layer of fabric and then an outer layer, often a robe. Most people possessed only one set of clothes! At most they had everyday work outfit and then possibly a ceremonial or good occasion outfit, but that was it.

Thus the belt was really important since it held the fabric close to the body and everything "in place." In Biblical times the belt is called the "girdle." Ah ha! They were not trying to conquer belly fat when they all wore girdles, LOL. A girdle was a belt made out of leather or fabric.

(I've just had to paws, I mean pause, to pet a friend's dog who I am taking care of while she is away. He misses his "mom" and needs lots of attention :)




...voice input would be helpful right now, ha....


Here is from a bible dictionary in the back of my 1955 New Standard bible, Authorized King James etc but exceedingly cool because of the beautiful engravings along with comprehensive dictionary.

"Girdle, an essential article of dress in the East, and worn both by men and women. The common girdle was made of leather, like that worn by the Bedouins today. The girdle was fastened by a clasp of gold or silver, or tied in a knot so that the ends hung down in front.

It was worn by men about the loins (Isa, v. 27, xi. 5). The girdle of women was generally looser than that of the men and was worn about the hips, except when they were actively engaged (Proverbs xxxi, 17). The military girdle was worn about the waist; the sword or dagger was suspended from it (Judg. iii. 16; 2 Sam. xx. 8; Ps. xlv. 3). In times of mourning girdles of sackcloth were worn (Isa. iii 24; xxii. 12)."

...the dawg's lonely again and needs more petting..... *saves*.....



Thus the normal garment was a loose cloth robe that is floor length held together with the girdle. When the person, man or woman, needed to work in the fields or at other chores, or needs to run, they "girded their loins." This meant that they pulled enough fabric up under the belt and tucked it in so that the floor length robe is shortened to being middle of the leg in length, thus making it easier to work or to "make haste."

Here's the modern equivalent. When someone is ready to "get down to work" they often say they are "rolling up their sleeves." Quite a difference between desk and studio oriented modern life, and active outdoor life of the past, where one today frees up the arms from long sleeved shirts while in the past it was to free up the legs in order to work outdoors or to walk/run in haste!

When one understands the culture it makes the Bible much easier to understand, the messages clearer, and certainly more enjoyable and less mysterious! See, even though one hundred years ago westerners were not wearing robes, being farmers and pasturalists, and other outdoor craftsmen and women, they would have still understood right away when reading the Bible what "girding one's loins" meant and implied since they could envision doing their outdoor work and the difficulties if they were wearing floor length robes. Today young people need to have such things explained, as many good Sunday school teachers do.

A small Christian church in Syria has a girdle that is credibly said to have belonged to Mary, mother of Jesus.

Now you can understand even better the very famous part of Proverbs 31, starting with 10: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. Girdles are referenced twice in describing this woman, once figuratively and once literally. She is admired for "making fine linen, and selling it; and delivering girdles unto the merchant" (24). So this proverb admires a woman who makes cloth, a fine cloth, linen, and also items that are the most essential besides the basic garment itself, which is the girdle. Then it is also used figuratively, "She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms" (17). They don't mean just body building strength, LOL, but rather strength of dependability and ability to do what is necessary with wisdom. See, they use the image of the girdle, which prepares one for swift movement, to invite one to imagine a virtuous woman girding her loins (the place a man would wear the actual girdle) and her arms wiItalicth strength, rather than leather. With one simple image the Proverbs has provided those who get the analogy with a great image of action-oriented and wise dependability of what is still a very feminine figure.

Jesus said in Luke 12:35 Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.

St. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

You can thus now understand from knowing the type of clothes and what it meant to gird up to be prepared for action how Jesus warns (in the context of a larger parable) and Peter, who would have heard Jesus discuss this many times, confirms that one has a duty to be constantly prepared for action mentally and spiritually if one expects to receive gifts of grace from God.

Many take this too literally (because they read what Jesus said but miss Peter's practical explanation) to mean "be ready when Jesus comes again in the Second Coming." Um, no, not exactly. Jesus, and thus Peter, are explaining that one must always be in a good state of being to receive from God, and not lolling about with high expectations but low readiness to comprehend God's will and wishes for you. Many people do not hear when God does reply to their prayers because they expect drama or they expect only what they expect, and are not alert to grace that they do receive, which is just about one hundred percent subtle and not glorious drama filled gifts that flood the sky with your radiance, LOL.

People girded their loins when they slogged out into the fields every day to weed (by hand) the food their family depended on, or when they have to run with an important message, or when one must tote or lug heavy things, or clean out the sheep pen.... the normal everyday things. If grace and gifts from God were drama filled and obvious, why would the most humble everyday symbol of garments be used by Jesus, and further explained by Peter? Precisely.

So that is why one cannot even actually substitute "roll up one's sleeves" as an equivalent, since that is mostly for desk jobs and white collar jobs, these days. And the point is missed on the T-shirt generation ha ha.

Rather, when one understands and immerses one's self in reading Bible passages such as these as to understand the lifestyle of those hearing (and speaking), one understands what God, through Jesus, and the prophets and the other holy people of the Bible are truly saying.

Think about what Jesus says to keep "your lights burning." He means your constant receptivity to God's will for you, even if it's not something you expect or like very much. You are not "covered" by leaving a light bulb on in a room all the time, egads. Again, think about those times. No one left a fire or lamp burning in an unattended room. But Jesus is saying that all of you need to keep your lights burning. This means to be serious and in constant attendance to all that God has said and taught you. This is why Peter says to be sober (both literally and figuratively). The bottom line is that these images mean one can never be frivolous and inattentive toward God at all. You are in a mental and spiritual state of having loins girded, not because you are waiting for something to happen, but because you are in the Kingdom of God on earth where continual service to him is required. You are always driving an auto in service to God, to use another modern and more apt analogy, so you can never risk being "asleep at the wheel." Can you say your light is burning if you barely think about God in a day, and do not have a day that is prayerful when one has opportunity?

See, people who think that they just need to noodle along on kind of a cruise control and only pay attention when a crash is imminent 1) probably cause the crash and 2) miss the whole point. Do not be "prepared" for Christ's Second Coming, but be asleep at the wheel of daily service to God.

There is much value in parsing each step of what Peter advises.

1. Gird up the loins of your mind (be knowledgeable and ready to understand God's plan and will for you),
2. Be sober (both literally and figuratively, because no delusion or frivolity must be allowed to distort God's relationship with you),
3. And hope to the end (in other words, live in a constant state of hope, no matter what, and never give up on God because he does not give up on you unless you surrender yourself irrevocably to sin)
4. For the grace that is to be brought unto you (grace is brought to you; you cannot manufacture or create or invoke grace upon yourself)
5. At the revelation of Jesus Christ (grace is brought to you by understanding and obeying what Jesus has said and demonstrated, through faith and belief and all subsequent behaviors that come from having genuine faith and belief).

People like to look for signs and deeper meanings, and here I can oblige you some. Please do not OCD overdose on symbolism though, LOL.

As I've already stated, the girding of the loins is such a humble and lowly, poor man or woman working everyday image, yet it is exalted in the speech of Jesus, of Peter, the first Pope, remember, and throughout the Bible, as we saw in Proverbs. Once again the humble and the everyday is exalted. Not "pretend humility" or "scripted humility," but the real humility of the meaning of girding one's loins. Kings wore decorative girdles of gold and did not gird their loins to work in the muck or to run from the fields in an emergency. The everyday people who were subsistence and poor girded their loins. The genuinely humble and genuinely everyday is always exalted by God.

My second point is to invite you to ponder, is it any coincidence that probably the only preserved girdle from that time in the Holy Land is the one of Mary in Syria? Was there anyone more genuinely humble, pure and non-drama oriented than her? Is it any wonder that the plain brown cloth (as best as I can see in the image) girdle of Mary, left behind at the household of someone in what is now Syria as she accompanied Jesus through all his preaching and ministry, in a small humble church in what is now an Islamic country remains?

God speaks everyday in a "small voice." The Bible records the dozen or so storm and thunders of his great miracles and the Theophany... but 365 days of each year God speaks in small deeds, small graces bestowed, and small opportunities to do his will and to serve him and through him each other.

Matthew 3:4
And the same John [the Baptist] had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins.

Ephesians 6:14
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Just as an aside, this is another reason why "modernizing" sacred art must be totally resisted. One hardly understands girding if one looks at vulgar "art" that has Bible figures in something like modern clothing. Yes, sure, medieval art clothed the figures in unrealistic rich garments of the time, but they were conveying a spiritual point, not dropping important Bible life imagery. What I mean is that it is important to convey realistic and not modern agenda driven images of Biblical figures. Let me use a quick example. What if some "artist" thought that drawing the occupying Romans in let's say Nazi uniforms for "symbolism" sake was a cute idea? Well, that would deprive, visually, through its erroneous and shocking power, viewers of easy access to the facts that Romans came to Jesus for miracles (the centurion) AND that Roman soldiers often converted enmasse to Christianity, being martyred in the dozens on the spot. Art "symbolism" can be very dangerously misleading. So this is just an educational aside to those of you in the arts, especially young people, that you must not accept the starkness of false, sweeping "symbolic" representations to "make a point," because 1) the point is often totally wrong and 2) the point can be so powerful that it erases the viewers access to the more moderate and more factual, nuanced reality. Artists should not make "points" at the cost of truth.