I spent all last week in bed with a rather nasty infection. I was too miserable to sleep and too tired to get up and do anything, so I mostly just lay in bed reading (right now I’m reading Shelby Foote’s excellent history of the American Civil War) and then watched both BBC The Office series plus the Christmas special. But I still would have preferred to be well and back at work.
I was well enough to go to church with my family yesterday. It was entirely uneventful, although after the meetings, a woman in the ward gave me the “garment feel-up.” This has happened to me on several occasions before, but it never ceases to shock me that someone would do this. Allow me to explain.
As anyone familiar with Mormonism knows, there is a special ceremony in the temple called the endowment which is supposed to prepare people for the higher ordinance of celestial marriage. Part of the endowment involves being “clothed in the garment of the holy priesthood,” which is really a two-piece set of undergarments, essentially a scoop-neck t-shirt and boxers that extend nearly to the knee.
The garments leave tell-tale lines under your clothing, and usually the scoop neck is visible through a Mormon male’s uniform of white shirt and tie. So, the wearing of the garment is a cultural marker reassuring others that you are in good standing, at least you appear to be, with the church. Not wearing garments probably indicates that you have strayed from the fold, and you might even be drinking coffee.
Needless to say, it’s been some time since I retired my garments. But I do wear an undershirt under my dress shirts because the white shirts tend to be nearly see-through. So I must present a confusing picture to church members who wonder if I’m still wearing garments. Apparently, there’s only one way to make sure, and that is the “garment feel-up,” which involves the curious church member rubbing their hand over my upper arm, where the sleeve of the garment should be.
As I said, this has happened to me on several occasions. Yesterday it was a little unnerving, as this woman, whom I don’t know at all, addressed me by my first name and then subtly did the garment check.
It’s tempting to be offended by this little ritual, but I see it more as a mechanism of comfort for the people who have done it to me. These people are probably genuinely worried about the state of my soul, but confirming that I’m wearing at least what appears to be garments reassures them that my damnation isn’t complete, at least not yet.