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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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!