The Garment and the Veil
With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,
She stands before thee, who so long ago
Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe
From which thy song and all its splendors came;
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’ve always been pretty orthodox in my garment wearing. I’ve worn them under the bra as I was instructed. I also wore both tops and bottoms together, feeling that the garment wasn’t complete unless I wore the set. I found that I get the most out of my garments when I think about the symbollism of the Atonement. They play an important part of an archetypal story that goes like this:
Eve found herself vulnerable outside the Garden of Eden. Her world was now open to strife, sickness, and death. Then Jesus, the Creator of Earth, told her that He’d make a way for her to overcome these ills of the new world. He would descend to Earth and lay down His life for her and her posterity. And as a promise that He would do this, He gave Eve a coat of animal skin, a sacrifice in similitude of His own future sacrifice: A sacrifice that would serve to cover up Eve’s vulnerability to this new world and the death that exists there.
Because this is the narrative I use to understand the garment, I have appreciated wearing it. I tend to look better with more clothes on, so making sure it’s covered hasn’t been an issue. In many ways I liked the sense of equality, that both men and women got to wear it, and that ordaining women to wear the Garment of the Holy Priesthood has got to mean something about an endowed woman’s Priesthood power, even if we don’t fully understand it yet.
I also view the garment as a type of veil. It shields us from the outside world. I’m not comparing it to a burqa, but to the temple veil (ETA: the veil that hangs in the temple). The garment is similar to the temple veil in distinct ways, and we can learn about the meaning of one by learning about the meaning of the other.
This last year, however, I made a conscious decision to not wear the garment, or to not wear it in an orthodox sense. When I was planning for the birth of my baby, I purchased some nursing tops for the garment. But when I was hit with mastitis the day I came home from the hospital, my plans changed. I wasn’t able to wear a nursing bra, much less the garment. As I healed, and I began to get the hang of nursing 20 times a day (and I have the recorded times to prove it), I began to feel that it wasn’t right for me to wear the garment as I’d been instructed. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on the symbolism I enjoy with the garment, but that I found it was necessary to make a temporary modification.
What I felt is that I needed to be close to my new tender baby. I wanted to feel him close to me, skin on skin, wrapped in only a diaper and under a blanket big enough for the both of us. I wanted him to know my touch, to smell my skin, to lay his head on my chest and hear my heartbeat. I couldn’t imagine anything holier than my touch on his skin, and the gentle dependence he had on my body. Although he was born full term, I wanted the benefits of Kangaroo Care, the ability to incubate my baby outside of the womb by holding him close to my skin during feedings.
I found the nursing tops to be a hindrance to this closeness. To lay my baby on my constantly milk-soaked top, and only give him access to the bear minimum part of myself didn’t seem to bring us the bonding I wanted. I felt when I wasn’t wearing the garment top, and I could lay him right on my skin, I could quickly wipe up any excess milk off of his skin and mine. This was the practical consideration, but there was a spiritual consideration too.
I remembered the garment as a veil. I thought about this veil separating me from my newborn infant son, who relied on me for all his nurturing. And I remembered Heavenly Mother. I thought about the veil that separates us from Her, the veil that some say the Father put between Her and us so that we cannot touch Her and defile Her with our coarseness. “A veil to protect Her from Her children,” some Church leaders have told me. I thought about the times I have ached for Heavenly Mother, those desperate times in my life where I wished the veil to part so that I could be held against Her and sob into Her chest and have Her nourish me. I looked at my own newborn son, and I decided I could not bear any longer to have a veil placed between us.