I’m not quite sure when I first became aware of Rachel Held Evans’ work. It was probably through Twitter. I wasn’t a regular reader of her blog. It was mostly occasional. I was a kind of tourist to her world. If I’m honest, it was more of the “watch the car crash” variety of spectator-ship. Not that she was a car crash in my book, per se. I mean, I definitely found her annoying at times. Certainly, I found her very much wrong on some things. I hated how she made straw men (at times) out of people that disagreed with her. I found it so irksome. I wouldn’t venture to guess how many times she made me roll my eyes in disgust.
But then again, I never got worked up about her work in the same way others did. I had sympathy with her on some things (the overly-intertwined nature of evangelicalism and politics, the value of women’s ordination, etc.). I appreciated her impetus to call things out and make room for people with doubts. I never felt like we were on the same team necessarily… but I also didn’t like to see people torching her or delighting in taking shots at her.
Anyway… she was never a major figure in my mental or emotional world. But a few years ago, when she died quite suddenly and tragically, I was really grieved by her death. Yes, I know we should grieve every death. Every life lost matters. Yes. I agree. But something about who she was and how she went about things made hers an especially sad, moving stranger’s death.
I’d been meaning to read Searching for Sunday for some time now. Recently, I listened to a copy of the audio book from the library.
I was really surprised by what I found there. I was moved.
Much of the book is about Rachel’s doubt. Doubt about the nature of God and Christianity. Even more, about her doubt that she’d ever find a home in, find faith in the Church. It’s part memoir, part exposition using the traditional seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church.
She was a fantastic writer. I knew that already, but her prose really sparkled at times. I appreciated her humility with her own story. She was self-deprecating in a really charming way that came across as sincere. She evoked some real chuckles about youth group culture that will ring true to anyone who grew up around the same time.
Two experiences really jumped out to me: I was so moved by her love for the Church and her real faith in the very core of what binds Christians together. I mean, she clearly wrestled with those things. But it seems so clear that only someone with real love would wrestle like that. She wrestled because she deeply cared. She was grappling with something that held her life. I knew that to some degree about her, but I think this book really laid that bare. I found it really beautiful, really moving.
The other experience that jumped out to me was some attitude I realized in myself at some point in the book. I’m not even sure what point of the book it was. But I remember thinking/feeling something along the lines that I was relieved for her that, now, at least, all of her mistakes about God were corrected. When I heard those thoughts, recognized them for what they were, I was so embarrassed. The subtext of that sentiment is that she would now see things clearly, see things rightly, see things MY way. Because I, of course, am right about it all.
This is not to say that we can have no idea about who is right and wrong about things. I think she was very wrong about human sexuality, for example. My opinion hasn’t changed on that. But my default attitude and assumption, even for a moment, that I will one day see God face to face and be… unsurprised? That is shockingly arrogant. Well… maybe not so shocking. I’ve hung around my own head for a long time to be too shocked.
I imagine that when I see Jesus, I will immediately recognize him. But I also think that I will be surprised by him. I expect to have gotten so much wrong. To realize I misunderstood or had my view of him misshapen. I think that’s part of being human. And when that is all revealed, will I really be holding up any kind of measuring rod to anyone else to see who was most right? I’ll be too busy being overwhelmed and surprised. And so, so happy.
I had to confess my own sin in that moment. I sinned against God and sinned against my sister.
She still did stuff that made me frustrated or made me roll my eyes. I still really disagree wit some of her stuff. But the experience of hearing her love for Jesus, her hope for the Church, her need for Resurrection… it was powerful. I can’t help but feel even more keenly that all of the aggravation I felt towards her in the past (however much it was), was that found between siblings. (And let’s be clear: it wasn’t “between.” She had no idea who I was.)
Some of what she said carried all the more weight in light of her untimely death. And it made me sad for her death all over again.
It also made me look forward to Resurrection and the setting right of all that’s wrong.
I trust her confession, her trust was not misplaced. That Jesus delighted to surprise her as much as he will delight to surprise me as well. Though I hope that day is long in the future, this book did made me think of my own death and dwell on the truth of Christ’s victory over it.
What she was searching for was found in Jesus. And I’m glad he’s big enough, faithful enough, good enough for people like me too.
Thanks be to God.
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