Rachel Held Evans died yesterday. I can’t stop thinking about her.
When Rachel’s books began releasing, I watched leaders in the evangelical community do what they do: throw stones at someone who dares to question long-held traditions and doctrine. (Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called her writings, “…unbiblical and theologically dangerous.”)
Rachel did it with a dose of humor and the leadership doesn’t often take kindly to that either, interpreting it as mocking or arrogant – especially if it’s a woman speaking.
Reviews of Rachel’s books by readers, though, were filled with praise for a woman who said aloud the things many of us thought. Her year of living as a Biblical woman illustrated the absurdity of such in a way that no sermon or essay ever could.
I was working on Secondborn’s quilt yesterday when Hubs, sitting nearby at his desk, asked, “Do you know Rachel Held Evans?”
“I know of her. She’s published by Nelson. But we didn’t know each other. She’s a talented writer. And, yes, I know she’s in the hospital in an induced coma. I’ve been following her husband’s updates.”
I dropped the fabric cutter in my hand and stared at him.
“What did you say?”
“She died.” He read from an article on his phone.
And I’ve been reeling ever since, which is kinda nuts given how I didn’t personally know Rachel. I knew her as a fellow female former evangelical on a journey out of that and into a firm, known belief. She was published by Thomas Nelson, the house where I began my career in Christian publishing as the launch publicist for their fiction division. They also published my first novel. So while I didn’t know Rachel personally, I felt like I knew her a little, or that I knew some about the experiences she was having as a Christian, writer, wife, daughter, mom, thinker, etc.
It felt like we had things in common.
I think her death spooks me because she was so young – 37. I’m 41. Her babies are a full decade younger than mine.
That makes me wonder – what if my life ends before I figure out what I fully believe?
(Not that I think that’s where Rachel was. It looked like she knew what she believed, including her thoughts about the Bible. I haven’t yet read her last book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again but just from the book description it sounds like she made her peace with the book that made me walk away from evangelicalism.)
I’ve said it a million times on this journey and will say it a million more if I’m here long enough: I didn’t want to walk away from Christianity. I just couldn’t pretend the Bible is perfect, literally true, presents a God who is consistently kind and patient and loving, and represents the answer for every instance of how to live contemporary life on earth. In short, I couldn’t worship the Bible. I couldn’t make it my ultimate source of authority – not in good conscience.
Anyway, I went to bed with my phone, reading everyone’s tweets about Rachel and re-reading hers – selfishly panning for wisdom, yearning to know final Truth. I wondered if Rachel has now met the Spirit in the flesh. Is she right that, “God’s not a dude” (or a female – God is Spirit and encompasses all that, she tweeted). Or is Rachel just gone? I’ve written before that the laws of our universe don’t allow for energy to just disappear. We are energy. Energy literally cannot just end.
But our understanding might be wrong. We’re always updating our grasp of how things work here – lab-coated scientists and whispery, wuthering poets alike constantly nibbling from the Tree of Knowledge.
I went to Twitter again this morning to see what people are saying now that we’ve all had a night’s sleep. Give me answers, people! I’m older than she was! I might get sick today and die before Mother’s Day! Come on! It all feels so much more urgent this morning than it did yesterday morning and it already felt pretty dang urgent.
Nish Weiseth had posted: “I knew Rachel Held Evans and loved her. Rachel Held Evans knew me and loved me. I’m so thankful and happy about that this morning, even in the middle of my own sadness.”
Two posts later, I read this tweet from Naples Illustrated:
“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.”
– Emily Dickinson
I smiled at the juxtaposition of the two on my screen. Well done, Twitterverse.
Rachel loved Nish Weiseth (and her husband and children and more). Because she loved, she lives on. My mind circled back to the same Truth that came when our beloved Jim died. He loved, he lives. We love, we live.
I hope I get enough time on earth to arrive at final, complete, abiding Wisdom. So far, I know this to be True: To consistently be from a place of love and kindness is good and right, always, both for here and for eternity. Love is the thing that opens or closes the door to life now and life everlasting.
Thank you for your honest journey, Rachel. Thanks for sharing it with me and everyone else, for being vulnerable and authentic and sincere. And thank you to the people who made it possible for Rachel to speak to the rest of us. I have so much to learn and limited time in which to learn it. She helped.
*The image used in this post is from WRCBtv.com.