I used to love watching my Mom get ready for dinner out on the town with my Dad.
She had the best outfits and always smelled incredible. She’d emerge in some gorgeous blouse and chic slacks. She never looked gaudy or gauche. She had an air of finery, class, and otherworldliness. It was mesmerizing how effortless it was for her.
She wasn’t like some women who always looked drained and exhausted. And she wasn’t like the supermodel ladies on magazines and TV, who made me blush at their spray tanned bodies and provocative attire. No. She had something these other women didn’t seem quite capable of attaining.
She had mystery: that seemingly effortless yet unattainable “something else” that both compels and inspires.
Maybe a few decades ago, Mom would have been right at home with the Audrey Hepburns and Grace Kellys of the world, back in an era when mystery and femininity seemed to go together without pause or question.
But instead, modernity has replaced mystery with shamelessness, and constant information. And for women, this change has been particularly damaging.
But why mystery?
In referring to mystery, it is often assumed that something is hidden or difficult to grasp. There is something that eludes the mind and leaves one wondering.
But what about a woman marks her as particularly mysterious? Why does this attribute seem to affirm her sense of class and elegance?
Is it just an antediluvian convention?
Maybe. I am sure some might argue this. Yet, I’d like to explore the topic a bit more. I believe there is something unique to a woman’s nature that is embedded in mystery; in fact, we see this riddled throughout the Church’s history based on a woman’s more secret, but all the same, essential role as the heart.
Even biologically speaking, a woman’s form speaks to this internal and more mysterious role: a woman’s intimate organs are hidden inside of her unlike a man’s. In many ways, this etches the structure of the masculine and the feminine. Women have a unique emphasis on the internal, whereas men, protectors and leaders, a special emphasis on the external.
Just in our bodily makeup we can see the positions of protector and nurturer carved out.
A woman is naturally veiled. Our Faith teaches us that things that are veiled are rife with symbolism: they are sacred, cherished, and mysterious. We see this in our Churches where the tabernacles and alters are veiled. They are holy ground.
Mystery Contra Mundum
All the same, retaining an air of mystery in an overly-informed culture is radical. Society practically praises over-sharing as a virtue. People jubilantly tout “they have nothing to hide” and proceed to share all kinds of intimate details with whomever.
Yet, it’s not about having (or not having) something to hide, but rather acknowledging that some things are meant to be sacred. Some things are meant to be private. And some things are meant to be saved and only given to certain people.
And of course, the basic but forgotten truth, that some things are simply not your business.
But what has this to do with women specifically?
Mystery and a woman’s physique go hand in hand. Why? Because inside of a woman, a phenomenal operation is at play. Every month, a woman’s body works tirelessly to prepare for the possibility of the most awe inspiring miracle: life. It is her very body that will nourish and serve as tabernacle and sanctuary to a tiny human before his grand debut in the world. And it is her body that goes on to sustain and nourish him even after his entry day. This tiny human, with an immortal soul unlike any other, with a particular set of talents and gifts, with characteristics that are his own, once lived securely for nine months within his mother.
A woman’s body is holy ground. God made her a vessel to carry a little soul that He desires to call His own.
A woman’s body is shrouded in mystery, and is designed to bring forth more life when given in love to her spouse. Her body makes clear the concept that real love is life-giving.
Things that are sacred are veiled
The other day I was with a group of women.
“Should I post this?” The one girl asked on repeat. “Is it too much?” The image was a close up of her scantily clad romp in a brightly colored bikini. Her facial expression was marked by a seductive smile.
“You look hot.”
“Your boyfriend will go crazy.”
She did look hot. Sexual. But she did not look beautiful. It was an image of body parts, bereft of wholeness.
These kinds of images are not unusual. In fact, most people probably encounter at least a handful while mindlessly perusing social media. Let’s face it, soft porn is in. In fact, it’s considered confident and empowering. We’ve twisted our vocabulary so that when someone says a girl has “a lot of confidence” they usually mean she is willing to exploit her body and leave nothing to the imagination.
Confident in Your Worth
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
A few months after I got married, my husband and I found out I was pregnant. We were elated. We couldn’t wait to hold this little one in our arms. But God had a different plan; a few weeks after the news, we lost our child.
We named him Theodore (Theo) because he was and is a gift from God. That Gift taught me so much— Including, the sacredness of my own body.
I knew I was pregnant before I had any tests to prove it. I felt it in a way that I have never before experienced. Something had changed within me. God had formed a soul inside of me. My body held life. It held a mystery. My body was no longer my own; it was a physical home to my child.
I started to mourn the loss of Theo before I showed any signs of losing him. I truly believe God let me feel his soul leave my body.
You see, Theo reminded me of an old truth. My body is not meant for everyone. It isn’t an object to be lusted after by random social media followers. It is not meant to be viewed as an object. It is so much more amazing and valuable and precious than that.
And I should treat it so.
How I dress should communicate that honor, that privilege, and that mystery.
Do I really wish to betray that?
Aren’t I more than the sum of my parts?
Yes, I am. And so are you.
Quid est hoc ad aeterniatem?
What is this in light of eternity?
All of man’s accomplishments, glories, and successes are trapped by the fleeting and finite. All earthly glory culminates in dust. What was here today is gone tomorrow. Everything we have is on loan from God.
But the things of God are eternal. And that includes our dignity.
Do we communicate our unending God-given value in our attire, or do we flaunt our parts to appear alluring before we decay?
One dances in the joy of the eternal whereas the other is trapped by the fleeting.
A Body-Soul Composite
“The soul is the actuating principle of the body” says Fulton Sheen, and it is this union that makes a person. We come to know the physical world and grow in knowledge through the body. Yet, a key point that must never be forgotten is that the internal is made manifest through the external – through the tangible.
The holier we become, the more womanly we become. The more virtuous a soul, the more whole we are as a person. St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us that holiness makes us simpler. Perhaps because when the muck in our own souls is cleared away, we are more perfectly in God’s presence, and regain our wholeness.
But it all starts with our internal disposition.
The way we dress and carry ourselves should not be an attempt to hide interior malnourishment. Nor should it be a crass exploitation, believing that we have little if anything else to offer to the world.
Things that are sacred and mysterious are veiled to rightly indicate their beauty, goodness, and value.
When we allow the air of mystery to perfume our wardrobe, we allow our bodies to be blessed and protected by modesty. We keep ourselves intact as a whole person rather than reducing ourselves to parts to be scattered and abused.
Your mystery is a beautiful symbol of your sacred role as woman.
You were beautifully made. You were made for wholeness. You were made for love.
Embrace your mystery.