By Suzanne Woods Fisher
"It can take years to earn respect and only minutes to lose it." Amish proverb
By now, we've all read the news story of the Amish men who were arrested for a bizarre crime: they broke into homes and shaved off the beards of Amish men and cut the hair of an Amish woman.
Certainly, a strange crime of harassment, especially unusual to hear of Amish-on-Amish violence, but was this worthy of national news? After all, hair grows back.
But it was a big deal. The accused had a mission in their overzealous, off-kilter minds: to deeply humiliate the victims.
For the Amish, hair isn't just hair. Hair is deeply symbolic.
Those customary horseshoe beards of Amish men represent four hundred years of tradition. They are the Amish wedding ring, grown after a Plain man weds his bride. Mustaches, though, are eschewed. Too strong an identification with the military. The Amish— all the Anabaptists, including the Mennonites, the German Baptists, the Hutterites—share a core belief of pacifism.
Amish women take their hair quite seriously, too. A girl's hair is never cut. The styling of hair is unique to that particular district: Lancaster women wear their hair in a certain way, parted in the middle and twisted back into a tight bun, held with pins. Yes, you read that right. Pins! And a covering is worn at all times, even at night. During the day, Amish women wear a thin organza prayer cap or a woven bandana. In most churches, little girls start wearing the prayer cap from day one. In Lancaster, though, they wait to wear the cap until eighth grade. By the way, a bonnet is different from a prayer cap. The bonnets are large and black, a little like blinders on a horse, worn only when a girl or woman goes visiting.
The simple hairstyles are designed so women do not take pride in their hair. We non-Amish lasses understand that tendency, don't we? I'm embarrassed to admit how much my middle-aged friends and I spend in a hair salon every six to eight weeks. U.S. hair care is a multi-billion dollar industry. Long before the practice of touching up gray roots, the Amish saw the tendency of women to glory in their hair. They base the need to cover the hair on several scriptural passages (1 Corinthians 11:15, 1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Hair, for the Amish, symbolizes so much more than we might think: identity, tradition, humility before God, marital status, district affiliation. Those men who broke into the homes of the Amish with the intention of a tonsorial attack knew exactly what they were after: complete and utter degradation.
The Amish have a saying, something those arrested men will have time now to ponder, "It is better to sleep on what you plan to do than to be kept awake on what you've done."
Did you know? There are over 260,000 Amish adults and children in North America. In most communities over half of the population is under 18 years of age. Thus, the number of baptized adult church members is likely about 116,000.
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle,
wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her
weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. And please
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