One of my most precious parenting rituals is reading to my children before their bedtimes. My son is in love with the Magic Tree House series, having read (listened) to probably 90% of the collection twice over by now.
We just finished “Abe Lincoln At Last (#47)” tonight, two days after the absolutely crushing news of Rachel Held Evans’ death. The book, about our illustrious president, briefly covers his untimely assassination with these words:
“We can’t explain why bad things happen,” Jack said. “All we can do is hope that they make sense someday.”
“Like when?” said Annie. “When will they make sense?”
“I don’t know when,” said Jack. “Maybe not even in a person’s lifetime. Maybe in a world beyond this world.” He sighed. “Maybe we just have to accept that it’s a mystery.”
It’s not at all lost on me that Rachel left behind two children of her own, one three and the youngest just 1 year old. She too was undoubtedly reading to her babies nightly, tucking them in with all the same love and snuggles that I do now, never once thinking that two nights ago would be her last.
Rachel Held Evans’ death shocked me with grief that I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve read a few of her books and grew to love her thoughts, particularly on various religious podcasts 1. But it wasn’t until her illness and quick hospitalization that I began to feel a sense of doom.
Rachel was much more than just her books; she symbolized an entire movement of people like myself who have left Evangelicalism. People who have been hurt by fundamentalist church doctrine, or experience, or abuse. People who felt forced out of Church but didn’t want to leave it. People who found church-like community elsewhere.
It’s people like Rachel and podcasts like The Liturgists that have kept me in church; nay, even kept me in the faith. I have a strong feeling that Rachel would bristle against those sort of words. She was one of us, every bit the doubter and outcast, looking for authentic Christianity no matter how hard it was.
Last week, days before her death, I finished the book I was reading to my daughter, The Giver. The scene near the end where Jonas is struggling against a blizzard to save his adopted baby brother Gabriel — it just broke me. It was the first time I was unable to continue reading to my daughter (she actually finished the book for me). The scene was beautiful in its description: naked isolation, cut off from shelter and support. I was that baby. So many of us are that baby. But there are those, like Jonas and Rachel, that break away from the established Community, to find a more authentic life where differences and reality and color are cherished.
There’s a truly lovely outpouring of appreciation happening right now on Twitter (imagine that!) toward Rachel and her family under the hashtag #BecauseOfRHE. Example:
Last Sunday morning, I sat beside Rachel’s bed & read to her your prayers, all of your beautiful prayers at #PrayForRHE. I felt much hope reading your words over my friend. This morning, one week later, I’m sad, but I’m also filled with hope because of your words at #BecauseOfRHE
— Matthew Paul Turner (@HeyMPT) May 5, 2019
- see the excellent “The Liturgists“