Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Speaking on Modesty: Choosing Beauty


Thanks for joining this Lenten discussion! I'll be posting weekly thoughts by Catholic women and men who have thoughts to share on modesty: what it is, how it's lived out, why it's important to them. I don't agree completely with all of these people, and I don't expect you to either; but I do want to open up a conversation. To make it easier, I've turned off the Capcha (you know, those horrible little letters and numbers you have to type to post a comment), so share your thoughts freely.

Our first post, by Kate Madore, is a perfect introduction to the series: a reflection on what modesty is, what it isn't, and why it matters.

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I have tried to frame the choices in my life lately as opportunities from God to move toward something, (a positive relationship) rather just away from something else (a negative relationship). I choose non-traditional schooling for my children, because there is movement and creativity there that suits their burgeoning spirits and intellects; not because I am afraid of standardized testing or peer pressure. I choose mostly simple and whole foods because they are the pure fruits of creation, lovely and nourishing, not just because I fear preservatives or pesticides. 

I move toward modesty in my self-presentation because I want to move toward Love…It is part of my movement in and toward Him (Love) through relationships with others.  It is not just a movement away from something, an omission of sexuality. 

God’s gifts to us in light and color, sound and silence, warmth and cool – these are gratuitous, overwhelming, and riotous gifts that do not limit themselves out of fear; and we do not hold back in adornment to glorify God in prose or poetry, art or music. We use our best, what is truly most beautiful, fitting, right and just. But we can at
times, in the name of Modesty, limit our beauty out of fear of this fascinating and mysterious gift of sexuality. We decide that something that might follow our feminine shape, or be saturated in color or texture, might incite men to lust. We find clothing and behavior that is ‘good enough’ because it steers clear of temptation – and often, reduces the amount of God’s beauty we are willing to let loose from within us.

I don’t think the temptation of others, and the gift of one’s body to a spouse alone, are matters lightly trifled with or dismissed. But we must make sure they don’t become rules that push us into fear, instead of inspirations to our full wholeness and integration through the grace of God. Modesty is about moving toward that wholeness; to full and proper expression of beauty and the abundance of creation; behaving and dressing as the Beloved of God – the Beloved of God in joy and in love, not fear. 


There can’t simply be a list of yays and nays regarding modesty – we must converse: men and women. Women must have open hearts to hear how their choices are affecting others and work at keeping their hearts cleansed and pure of intention. Men must see modesty as part of a woman’s work to glorify God through her innermost and outermost beauty, and join her intentions to glorify Him. 

Modesty alone cannot be the the Final Rule, and clothing is not the admission's ticket to heaven. It must be taken as it is – a gift working with so many other gifts toward our union with Love.  Modesty is not a muse dancing alone. She is holding hands with Truth and Beauty.
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Kate Madore is truly terrible at bio writing, so take the following facts in whichever way you find meaningful: Kate lives with her favorite man ever (her husband, Christian) and their three lovable rapscallion children (another adorable rogue will join the family in May). She spends a lot of time washing things and putting them away, but finds occasion to play the piano, read poetry (and sometimes write it) and sneak outside to drink up any sunshine available. Speaking of drinking, she's likely having dark coffee with lots of cream or (come May) gin & a splash of tonic.

5 comments:

  1. "I move toward modesty in my self-presentation because I want to move toward Love…It is part of my movement in and toward Him (Love) through relationships with others. It is not just a movement away from something, an omission of sexuality."

    So, in looking for various points to respond to I found myself in the position of wanting to quote virtually everything (or at the very least, initial sentences. Way to rock the "how to start paragraphs" rule...). But this point in particular I loved. The idea of responding to an invitation, not a rebuke. It reminds me of the Catechism's statement about modesty being ordered toward Chastity, but possibly only because chastity and charity look so similar to my brain. But modesty is also listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit alongside charity, so I feel vindicated.

    I get tired of the modesty conversation being solely about "women and clothing" but the sentence "Men must see modesty as part of a woman’s work to glorify God through her innermost and outermost beauty, and join her intentions to glorify Him" really hit me, maybe because "woman's work" is such a beautiful and shied-away-from phrase. The introduction of modesty as work, but joyful and willingly undertaken work, is superb. We want everything to be easy, to come quick and painlessly with little input. Modesty should be as easy as knowing the measurement from collar bone to cleavage and selecting only those tops that fall in the "no-ma's zone" (or something). But to present it as work; as mundane and everyday as dishes, or laundry, or prayer - not always enjoyable, but filled with joy (say the man, who does NOT find his days full of dirty diapers or soiled plates). It grounds modesty in the realm of reality, something that resides in our being, not a whimsy that we chase after, tripping over our ankle-length plaid jumpers.

    Suffice to say, there's quite a lot of food for thought here, mixed with some mesmerizing imagery ("muse dancing alone"!!) and a fantastic kick-off for this series.

    -The Neglected Husband

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    1. *"No-man's". Idiot.

      -The Neglected Husband

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  2. thank you so much...I am so glad to have feedback, especially with the nerves of sharing writing for the first time. You highlighted the woman's work portion of things, which I realized could be a major turn off for some; but your thoughts helped me confirm my own: that it is there, 'residing' as you say - and that it matters.
    Reflecting further, I think that the net result of working toward modesty could be the same whether coming from love or fear - I can chose this self-presentation as a response of love, or I can count it as passing a series of litmus tests, out of fear/avoidance, and it could be even the same clothing. But intentionality is so important - choices forward, toward something - these scaffold us to a higher or deeper step toward Love; choices from fear aren't going to carry us in the same direction.
    thank you again for your response, it was a great start to the day :D
    -k

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  3. Wound up reading this about three times, and really appreciate the positive framing of the question. Modesty is so often little more than a "Don'ts" list.

    We find clothing and behavior that is ‘good enough’ because it steers clear of temptation – and often, reduces the amount of God’s beauty we are willing to let loose from within us. How truly you speak!

    Thanks for sharing. :)

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  4. The positive framing of modesty is very powerful; it reminds me of how we say virtue is a positive thing, and sin is a negative one. If we find ourselves too much saying, "I oughtn't, I oughtn't," then we're probably not doing it right, or we're at least in a very small place spiritually. Like Chesterton says, the ten commandments are a testament to how much we are allowed to do!

    Being modest, and integrating the way you dress into an expression of the person God made you to be, is something that needs crafting, I think. As such, we need not be judgmental of those whose skill in the craft are different from our own--either by dressing so dowdy that they are not caring enough for their bodies or by putting too much into it that they are exalting their bodies above God. Hm, am I making any sense here?

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