Rachel Held Evans
I have found a new favorite writer: Rachel Held Evans. Sadly, she died at age 37 in May 2019. But she left us with several excellent books. It’s hard for me to describe her, so I’ll let Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, do it for me. In his June 10, 2019 column he wrote: “… she was a young religious writer who wrote with a depth and balance beyond her years as she chronicled her struggles to move from the deep, sincere, childlike faith she was raised in to eventually arrive at a questioning, but more mature, faith that was now willing to face all the hard questions within faith, religion, and church.”
The book I just finished is Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. In it she articulates her own “thorny relationship” with the church (Southern USA Bible Belt Evangelical Church). She tells a series of stories arranged around the church’s seven sacraments, carefully describing how she was led to a more adult faith and even eventually found a church (Episcopalian) in which she and her husband, Dan, could worship.
But let me allow her to speak for herself. Here are a few brief excerpts from this book:
1.”In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.” (p. 22)
2. She raises the question, what exactly did the first followers of Jesus have in common? “It certainly wasn’t shared belief that brought them together. Nowhere do the Gospels speak of converts reciting the ‘sinner’s prayer’ or signing a doctrinal statement or pledging allegiance to a creed… It wasn’t shared social status or ethnicity that brought Jesus’ followers together either…. it was a shared sense of need: a hunger, a thirst, a longing. It was the certainty that, when Jesus said he came for the sick, this meant Jesus came for me.” (pp. 91-92)
3. “It’s strange that Christians rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion.” (p. 112)
4. “Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our Teacher by imitating his posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness.” (p. 116)
5. “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” (p. 148)
6. “But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the Church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing…. The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river… Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route… the Church does not offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The Church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The Church offers grace.” (pp. 208-209)
7. “Cynicism is a powerful anesthetic we use to numb ourselves to pain, but which also, by its nature, numbs us to truth and joy. Grief is healthy. Even anger can be healthy…. We have to kick the cynicism habit… We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain and joy and heartache of being in relationship with other human beings. In the end, it’s the only way to live.” (pp. 222-223)
8. “But lately I’ve been wondering if a little death and resurrection might be just what church needs right now, if maybe all this talk of waning numbers and shrinking influence means our empire-building days are over, and if maybe that’s a good thing. Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It’s certainly not something resurrection people worry about.” (p. 225)
Ronald Rolheiser concludes his column on Evans with these words: “Read her! Even more important, plant her books in the path of anyone struggling with faith or church.” He could also have said, “Write about her on your blog!”
Do any of Evans’ words strike a chord in your heart today. If so, which words… and why?
How would you describe the difference between the faith of your childhood and your faith now as an adult? What accounts for the difference?
Our headlines these past few weeks have been so disheartening, so disturbing: the surge in Covid, the situation in Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, floods, fires, hurricanes, political divisions, and so on… Against such happenings, do you find any hope in Evans’ words?
PS: I will be speaking at the Lorain First Friday Club Forum on Friday September 3. My topic is “Hanging onto Hope in a Beautiful and Imperfect World.” The luncheon begins at 11:30 in the Spitzer Conference Center at Lorain Community College. My talk plus a question and answer session runs from noon to 1:00. The cost is $20 and it is open to all. Check their website for details: [email protected] or call: 440-244-0643. I hope to see some of you there!
Here is a simple yet beautiful version of John Michael Talbot’s “Create in Me” based on psalm 51. It is sung here by a group called Acapella. I am moved every time I see this video. For me, it captures that “shared need” of which Evans speaks… our shared hunger, thirst, longing… Let me know what you think of it…
I invite you to respond to any part of this reflection. My readers always tell me how much they appreciate your comments!
Good morning all!
Wow! This reflection struck a major chord with me! There was a time not so long ago in which I was really angry with God. I didn’t take this lightly. I broke my relationship with Him. I said things to Him, at the time, that we’re laced with feelings of disappointment; despair, & anger. I walked away. I came back numerous times to reiterate the angst & anger I continued to harbor towards Him. It was a dark time.
Then, I began to share the thoughts & experiences with trusted friends & family that brought me to this decision. They listened. They didn’t judge. They understood. Then one day, a close confidante said it best, “God has heard it before. He is patient. He will always be with you & waiting for the time when your heart softens & your soul will be ready to make amends. And at that time, He will be waiting for you with open arms to comfort you.”
In time, that happened. It was a journey riddled with guilt & resolve to stand my ground. After all I was convinced I was justified to turn my back on everything I had believed. But the Lord kept the door open with a sliver of light to guide me back to Him when I was ready to talk with Him again.
It took a couple years for me to work through my issues with Him and come to a place that not only restored our relationship , but also resolved any doubts or anger I had been carrying around so long. My brother, Jesus, and my friend, the Holy Spirit, showed me the way back to my Father. I asked forgiveness. Our relationship was renewed; only this time, I had grown in my faith to see the light that was always there.
Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all…
I have been hearing about Rachel Held Evans for years, and your blog, Sr. Melannie, is at least the third time Searching for Sunday has been put forth as recommended reading. A sign to be sure! I like what she says about the church needing a little “death and resurrection,” how its “empire building days are over.” That insight is indeed “depth and balance beyond her years.” Thank you!
Unfortunately, I had also come to find the work of Ms Evans only after her death. Yet what a wonderful life she led! Her struggle to find the maturity and wholeness of her faith, mirrors my own. Yet how plainly, gently and beautifully she coerces us to find the true meaning of Christ in our hearts and in our world.
So, Sr Melannie, I thank you also for helping us all these years,
to find within us and all around us the hope, the joy, and the great love we are given and asked to give.
Thank you, Sister, for your reflection on Rachel Held Evans. She was indeed a young woman who possessed wisdom beyond her years. I especially liked her comments comparing curing and healing. And the music video just blew me away! I was not previously familiar with that specific singing group. I’ve now discovered that these men have produced some 40 albums since 1982. They are quickly becoming part of my music library. As always, thanks for your thoughts. Peace and Blessings to all.
A wonderful choice My spiritual study group at my church is actually reading and discussing the book “Inspired” by this author. She’s a wonderful writer and so genuine and authentic in her faith journey. Such a significant loss in such a young person.
That song was powerful! Thanks, Melanie.
I’ve read her book Faith Unraveled which she wrote before Searching for Sunday. A new book of her writings will be published in November. Her friend Jeff Chu took on the task of putting her words together. I too was moved by the story of her passing at such a young age & how her family & friends endured. “The Church offers grace”. How much we need it!
This blog was amazing. The song also amazing! Thank you Sister Melannie! Everyone have a great week!
She has a new book coming out posthumously that some of her friends finished for her after her death. I think she wrote half of it before she passed away. But yes she was a wonderful soul who is gone too soon. ☹️ It was very shocking to hear about her death. It was extremely sudden. She and I are the same age and it’s funny how you hear, you never know when our time will be up. But it’s really true. None of us know how many more minutes or days or years we have left on this Earth. She left a beautiful legacy though.
Ah Melanie — how did you know my long on-going struggles with church and my hanging on by a slim thread? Thanks loads for the blog! Sure enjoyed my chance of meeting you at ND the other week. Thanks for all.
Thank you Melannie for another grace filled Monday. I only very recently discovered Rachel on a Give Us This Day reflection. I now must procure her books.
Mary E Nolan
Thank you, Melannie. What Rachel wrote and Acapella sang and Ronald wrote are medicines for my sick soul. As the institutional Church has failed in some scandalous ways and Afghanistan has fallen despite American efforts over two decades, leaving the most vulnerable even more vulnerable, we can only trust God as the hungry first Christians did. Such trust is only rewarded in and with God and God’s family.
I discovered Rachel Held Evans not long before she died through her book Searching for Sunday. I love her work and recommended her to many others. One of my favorite quotes from her book: “But the Gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out, it need a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.’ This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy, it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”
All I can say to that is, AMEN!
I continue to ponder that we are called to healing, not to cure.
Thank you Sr. Melannie for your Monday blogs. I had not heard of Rachel Held Evans but will definitely add her to my reading list.
My faith has evolved through the years from that of a rule follower to one who first considers whether a rule should be blindly followed.
I particularly appreciated Rachel’s suggestion that the Church’s “empire-building” days may best be over. I used to think that Christendom was something wonderful. But when I last travelled to Europe, I realized that, even if it was once a cherished state of affairs, it is meant to be gone forever.
As I approached a typical idyllic village with the houses clustered around the tall-steepled church, I envisioned a place where the Church still reigned. But I found the church building abandoned, the stained glass windows gone and pigeons, dead and alive, occupying this once holy ground. That image still haunts me.
Rachel was no doubt right in recognizing that we will never find Christ, or allow him to reign in us, until we abandon our “Christian Empire” building.
Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for highlighting the lively, loving, irenic Christianity of the late Rachel Held Evans. Gratitude for the light that she shone and that she continues to shine through her books, through her words, through her luminous life.
A big thank you to all of you who have responded to this week’s blog—so far. Feel free to continue to do so. I was especially touched by those of you who shared some of your own struggles with faith and church. None of us is ever alone in our struggles (as well as our joys!) Thank you also for pointing out which words or phrases stood out for you from the Evans’ quotes. You made me re-read her words and appreciate them even more. It’s always good to gather additional insights from you, the readers of this blog. You encourage me to keep on posting things every Monday! Thank you! Sr. Melannie
As Stephen mentioned above, Wholehearted Faith is her final book (completed by Jeff Chu); audiobook recorded by many of her friends. Available for preorder.
A few years ago I read A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD. I wasn’t excited about it but we chose it for our book club. I was amazed and so impressed that I in turn passed it around to many people.
I am so glad you reminded me and will check out her other books! She has such great insights that open up a way of thinking that makes such sense to me.
I liked the quote that included we are gathered because we are hungry, because we said yes and not because we are worthy.(my arrangement)
Thank you as always for your sunflower seeds!!!