In an earlier post I reflected on the question of what makes a nun different. One thing that in the past has set nuns apart from others is the habit.
A habit is simply clothing characteristic of a group, in this case, a religious community. The traditional habit is most commonly recognized as a black veil and long black dress with a white coif (close-fitting material beneath the veil that surrounded the face). In my community, most of the sisters no longer wear this type of a habit. Our habit (which used to be a beautiful dark blue … known as IHM blue) is basically anything that is simple, modest, and appropriate for the context in which we find ourselves. That may mean a suit, or business casual, or shorts and a t-shirt. Since we live and work in a variety of places (from missionaries in developing countries to leading professionals in the fields of education, medicine, art, administration, and human rights), we dress according to what is appropriate to that situation and to who we are as IHM sisters. So, we may not be as immediately recognizable as we once were, but we are still present and active in the world.
Because we don’t have a common, “standard issue” habit, it’s difficult sometimes for people to pick us out of a crowd. We are no longer “different” because of how we dress. Sometimes this is a good thing — people see you as a person first. I’ve discovered that being a nun can be an intimidating thing for people. They’re just not sure what to do with you. Some people are put off by it. Other people see you though the lens of unhelpful stereotypes. It’s okay not to always be seen as a nun. When I’m picking up bathroom supplies at the store, I really don’t need to let everyone know that I’m a nun (ATTENTION KMART SHOPPERS: WE HAVE A NUN IN AISLE 5 … REPEAT … A NUN IN AISLE 5). However, in most situations–when I am at work, publishing my blog or an article, at a funeral, or wherever it is important for folks to know I’m a nun (for whatever reason)–I let it be known that I am a nun.Being a nun is something I’m proud of and am pleased to share with others. As a nun I am something of a “public” figure and represent my religious congregation and the church. This is a honor that I take seriously.
Back to the habit to bring some sort of closure to this post … I personally like our IHM habit of simple, modest, and appropriate dress. Though sometimes, I admit, I think I would have looked very cool in that IHM blue habit!