18 April 2017

vicarbrench: (Prayer)
At the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, March 1st, I cut off my hair. It was the first complete haircut I'd gotten for about 24 years. I had been thinking about doing that for several months in advance, decided in December to go through with it, and by the beginning of 2017 had chosen Ash Wednesday to do it.

The strangest thing was that even when I finally went to the barber, I still didn't quite know why I was getting my hair cut off. I knew I had changed a lot in recent years, and I "felt" like I needed to change my hairstyle too. The basic ponytail look that I sported for most of 24 years was so... me. It was strongly caught up in my identity and self-perception. A few years ago I got surprisingly emotional at the mere suggestion that I'd "look good" with short hair! Perhaps ever since then, the suspicion was growing in the back of my mind that perhaps I was a little too attached to my hairstyle. It's one thing to be confident in oneself - well and good. To be proud of one's looks is perhaps a vanity that can be considered excessive, even sinful. But to be attached to one's appearance to the point of fearing change, well, surely that is unhealthy?

But that wasn't the whole story; I knew it wasn't adding up yet. Even trying to add a religious layer to the whole deal wasn't quite right - one could argue, through the self-image and vanity line of thinking - that I had made my looks into an idol. Perhaps my attachment to my long hair was rivaling my attachment to God? No, that argument was a bit far-fetched, too.

The answer to the big question - why I had cut my hair - turned out not to be a religious one, though a religious context and imagery gave me the breakthrough I needed to find the answer. The answer was that I had been undergoing a major shift in lifestyle and outlook, and it was well past time I embraced that change in myself. Cutting off my hair wasn't a necessary move; I didn't need to cut ties with my past, or let go of my old look, and re-create myself in a new image. But it was an appropriate move: it served as an outward physical sign of an inward invisible reality.

To borrow language from Doctor Who, it was time to regenerate; to let my old self "die" and embrace the new incarnation. I, as an idealistic and a romantic (in the general sense of the term) was not the center of my personality and outlook anymore. Becoming a parent, and particularly becoming a stay-at-home Dad, has pushed me into a different situation. Life's ideals are beyond my capacity to chase; wishes and dreams have to play side show to the ordinary grind of making sure my 2-year-old doesn't fall head-first off the couch or wander into the street. I don't have time to pursue big writing projects because I've got dishes to clean and diapers to change. My station in life has shifted, and I have to emphasize different aspects of my personality in order to survive and thrive under these new conditions.

And so the season of Lent was a real time of despondency for me; I was mourning the death of my previous self. It was also a time of preparation: who is the new me? What am I going to be like now? How will I understand myself? The religious contour of that liturgical season matched perfectly my introspective situation.

But then Easter arrived. After six and a half weeks, I had gotten used to having short hair. I finally stopped having to look at myself in the mirror in bemusement. I finally stopped regretting the haircut. I even had begun to like it, in its own way. Easter - the season of new life - it's the time we celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus, and remind ourselves of the new life we also have received in Christ, particularly through Holy Baptism. In that context, I'm finding myself with a new sense of peace with myself. The new me is still new to me, and I have much to learn and better habits to develop... but I'm happy now. The regeneration process has completed; the season of resurrection has gotten through to me.

So now I'm short-haired Matt. Still an Anglican priest, still married, still a dad, still a nerd in my own (endearing?) ways... but now a bit less idealistic and a bit more duty-oriented.


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