“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” -Galatians 3:27
In her most recent book, Wearing God, Duke professor Lauren F. Winner explores under-referenced biblical metaphors that use everyday objects and images as a means of understanding God.
Rather than focusing on beloved but perhaps too easily cliched images of God as king, shepherd or rock, Winner delves into portrayals of God that are not so much new as overlooked: God as clothing, God as a woman in labor, God as laughter. The resulting volume, which combines theology, memoir and devotional reflection, invites the reader on a journey that may well lead to new ways of conceiving of and relating to God.
Unsurprisingly, I was especially attracted to Winner’s exploration of God as clothing. But while I often seek to use my beliefs about God and scripture to inform my understanding of a proper relationship to clothing, Winner works from the opposite direction. Using her experience as a person who interacts with shirts and jeans and shoes on a daily basis, she explores what it means to have a God who would choose to be described as something that can be worn.
Along the way, she examines apparel from numerous angles. She notes that “clothes have not only protected us from the elements and kept us warm; they have also profoundly shaped our identity and our sense of self.” Winner describes the way that trying out different styles of dress helps people take on different roles more thoroughly, whether that’s a Talbots skirt to get in the mindset for work or a hand-me-down sweater when trying to evoke the original owner’s boldness. She then imagines what it would mean to “try on Christ” in a manner that lets him mediate identity in a similar way.
Winner also looks at the way that clothing is involved in negotiating our relationships with our bodies—a relationship that can be especially difficult for women embedded in a culture that so often misrepresents the female body. She acknowledges the shame involved in being embodied in flesh not deemed fit for the pages of Vogue, but also notes, “If I could know that God wants to nestle up close to the places of my shame, as close as clothing—then the shame would dissolve.”
After spending time on identity and communication, the chapter goes on to examine the way that clothing communicates things about its wearer and God’s gift of clothing to Adam and Eve before they left the garden. Like the rest of the book, the clothing chapter is littered with quotes and anecdotes from medieval mystics, contemporary scholars, and other writers, and closes with a prayer.
Winner’s invitation to directly engage God is part of what makes her work compelling. While the thoughts she explores are interesting enough—what does it mean to think of God as a pair of overalls?—it’s clear that she’s not writing to help readers get one more theological duck in a row, but rather looking for a way to pull people into deeper relationship with the divine.
And if Christ invites us to do that through our favorite jeans, why say no?