I returned home from my Vision Quest last summer bearing a new name. It came to me on the third day of my solo, which was the fourth day of my fast. I was feeling weak and light-headed. It's hard to know if it rose up from the depths of my soul or dropped down from the unhinged flight of my imagination. Either way, it stuck: Silver Hair.
The name had significance in two ways. One touched on the reason for my Quest in the first place. I was seeking a threshold to mark my seventieth birthday and my passage into the next chapter of my life. In recent years I had become the recipient of the respect, the deference even, of younger men who saw in me an older gent with something to say. Some held doors open for me. Some called me "Sir." I didn't always recognize that elder statesman within myself, so I hoped the Quest might help me own my ageing and step into this new role. Silver Hair seemed to do the trick.
But the name also described a phenomenon that happens to me when my hair grows long and unattended. It explodes into a big, frizzy, Brillo pad, like clown hair. In pictures of me from my late teens (the pic above was taken in 1971) I'm a poster child for the natural-born Afro. My Vision Quest, camping in the mountains of Colorado--without baths, showers, or mirrors--meant that I was wandering around base camp with what I can only imagine was a wild nimbus of grey hair surrounding my head. I even started calling my Quest, "Eleven Days Without Hair Product." So, there was that.
Since that time, because of my new name--something I didn't share with many people at first, preferring to wear it inwardly--I've been letting my hair grow. If you're going to have a name like Silver Hair, you should have something to show for it. I realized that I'd always wanted long hair but that I'd been held back by my need to fit in with the various communities to which I was connected. This included both the clergy, with their outdated hair styles (if they had hair at all), and also the close-cropped corporate world inhabited by many of my parishioners.
But if I was to allow my hair to grow, blowing like the Spirit where it willed, it had to be more than a fashion statement. Long hair on older men isn't generally a good look, the thin ponytails and, worse, the tight man buns being sadly risible, a transparent attempt to reclaim a long-gone youth. And it couldn't be about the low-maintenance convenience of it. If anything, long hair is more work and often nothing but an irritant. No, it had to be deeper than that.
Growing my hair was in fact an attempt to express something that had wanted to come out of me for a very long time, something that aligned me with artists and creative types more than with church and business people. Behind everything I have done, being creative has seemed closest to my God-given nature, whether writing or playing music or talking to people for my podcast. The outward look of my hair was actually becoming an expressive vehicle for the inner calling of my soul.
When I wanted to talk with someone about all this, someone who would understand this hair / soul connection, I had to look no further than my friend Barry Foster. As a priest, Barry held executive positions with two Anglican dioceses. He moved within the church world more confidently than most. As a good dresser--dashing, well put together, tastefully self-expressive--he put most clergy to shame by his sartorial smartness, which, admittedly, wasn't that hard to do. This placed him, by appearances alone, within the upper echelons of ecclesiastical power and influence. He was a competent man who knew who he was and he wasn't afraid to let his clothes announce that to the world on his behalf.
Our conversation for The Mystic Cave explores the connections between how we dress and who we are. Given that our outer appearance reflects our inner realty, whether we are intentional about that or not, our clothing is saying something to the world about who we are. It matters if our shoes are polished or scuffed, our clothes prim or fanciful, our hair short or long. And if the connection works that way, from the inside out, does it work the other way, as well, our outer appearance actually informing and shaping our inner reality? Can we dress ourselves into becoming the person Soul is calling us to be? Can our haberdashery, or our hair for that matter, actually change us?
To hear our conversation, just press the Play button, below.