Hair unbound is the free spirit of wild horses, the mysterious shape of wind-waved prairie grass. I dangle hair over my infant to hear delightful peals of laughter emanating from the nose wiggling underneath. I enjoy the warmth of a friend braiding the strands; the tenderness of a child clutching and silking tresses; the stir when my beloved runs his hand through the locks. It is my outward show of beauty from surrender, trust, and restoration as one of God’s, released to express His original design. I admire hair textures, “Like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead” (Song of Solomon 4:1); evoking variety, abundance, allure and lavishness.
Long hair is unfashionable for women in some positions. It is too girly, too unprofessional, too outmoded. At last I find the confidence to surrender to my own opinion and admit how much I enjoy long hair. Never mind how others prefer their hair. This is no legalistic commentary about how women ought to style themselves outwardly. Rather, hair is an idea of the glory of a woman.
Paul writes of church and cultural customs;
1 Corinthians 11:15
but … if a woman has long hair, [isn’t] her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. NIV
Don’t you agree there is something naturally powerful in the symbolism – a woman, her beautiful hair reminiscent of angels, praying in adoration… The Message
I carefully protect the cleanliness of this glory, seeing as I enjoy it so, and its proximity to my face. Then I think of Mary, who devises a grand gesture to demonstrate her adoration for Jesus. Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, (likely the same ill-reputed woman in Luke 7:36-50) anoints Jesus’ feet with her hair in John 12:1-10. She, who shirks serving duty to enjoy a visit with Jesus. She, whose brother Jesus restored to literal life. She was a sensitive, sensuous, expressive woman. Hair is her vessel for outpouring emotion.
If I were Mary,
I peer into the doorway with my alabaster flask pressed in a clammy clutch against my belly, trying to remain unseen by the gathered men. Disciples secure in their public image. Men who take for granted their opinions are heard and considered. Pharisees representing decades, even generations of authority and cultural influence. A group attracted to popularity such as that enjoyed by Jesus, even when in opposition. Perhaps yearning to glean renown from the glow of Jesus’ presence. Or else to gain dominance by undermining Jesus’ challenge. Intimidation rises from the pit of my core.
My mind returns to what I’ve decided to do. I am at a loss to find an offering that measures up to my gratitude for Jesus’ remaking of me. This perfume, this materialistic inheritance, is perhaps not the sort of thing Jesus favors best, but it is the best I can offer. I can think of no better use for it.
I lean in the door again. I snap back. What will the men think? Do they know my past? Will they see me as a flagrant woman, prone to displays? Self-seeking attention? Will they sneer at my expression? Yet the longing to respond to the abundant love of Jesus compels me. It will be an outpouring at the expense of my dignity. Likewise, I can think of no better use for it.
I peer in a third time. My hands wring the hard, cool jar but it doesn’t yield. Am I out of line? But Jesus. Will I embarrass him? But Jesus. But Jesus. The struggle ends. Yearning overcomes.
As if wearing blinders, I violate invisible barriers of rank and sex to kneel over his feet. I leave no time for the confusion of men to manifest action. I forcefully strike the jar onto the foundation. If my entrance had escaped the notice of any, surely the crack of the jar has now focused every eye onto the scene I am making. Fragrance, heady and infusing, permeates every corner and nostril. Undulating rivulets flow onto the road-weathered feet of Jesus, dancing over the tendons and vessels. The fragrance and the shock of silence in the room heightens the tension and raises alarm, raises unspoken questions about my motive. Humility and joy constrict in my arms, my neck, shuddering and forcing a burst of tears. My tears and lips join the rills of perfume overflowing on the feet. My hair spills over the deluge. I wrap and smooth his feet with this textured emollient. My offering is made of the fibers of everything I receive, of even my dignity. I eagerly absorb the grit from his feet, a set-apart residue made so by Him who is set apart. Strands blend into a muddy salve composite of things sacred, luxuriant and earthy. I surrender all I have that I might receive all He gives.
She has done a beautiful thing to me. (Matthew 26:10) Jesus knows! Jesus cuts above the judgments and declares my motive of adoration and gratitude. It is more than enough. He heals shame and restores dignity.
How does Jesus respond to the demonstrative woman? Christ exhorts her.
After all, what kind of love do you prefer? The disciplined form of duty-bound love, or intensity that moves beyond convention towards the grandly absurd? Rather than tie her hair back to wash his feet, Mary lays it into the offering, withholding nothing for an outpouring of expression. Her worship is entirely yielded and wholly understood. The glory of a woman is not the woman self-glorifying. It is less a badge of honor, more an enduring relationship; ever receiving from Him, ever offering up. We are free to be women in the church.
What “glory of a woman” is a “beautiful thing” you long to surrender to Jesus?