It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Death is a part of life.
Rachel Held Evans
March 6, 2019
Rachel Held Evans, among a few brave others, carried the banner for those of us who fell in love with Jesus in thickets of bad theology. She wrote permission slips to reject so much of what we’d been taught about God without leaving behind our beloved.
A brave, thoughtful, magnificent woman died too soon. She is survived by her sweet babies and her loving husband and her good, true friends. They will all miss her with aches and groaning as the years move them from here. She also left a body of work that has helped so many find freedom and hope in a gospel they almost gave up on. In the mysterious way that it seems to happen, she will continue to love her family and friends and she’ll continue to walk with people hand-in-hand on their faith journeys, but right now in the moment we can hold she has left the world the way she has always been in it and the world is sorry for it.
Rachel was in the middle of creating a new book – one I am certain the world needs – and I don’t know how it works, but I believe that whatever her spirit was trying to use words like clay to form will still be made with her fingerprints on it. She lived in a way that collaborated with the rest of humanity and with God. She made herself a part of the long history of redemptive work – the arc of justice, the kingdom come – and so she’ll always be a part of its future.
I am 32 years old and there is some version of me at 20 wondering if I’ll have written a book by now or gotten that degree. And there is some version of me at 45 looking back at me now having lived through all the new, exciting, traumatic, mundane, surprising, utterly predictable years between us.
There is yesterday and tomorrow, but right now is the only moment I can hold.
I didn’t know her personally, so my heart breaks hardest for her children and her husband, her beloved friends who just want to see her smile or hear her voice in the same room. I know this pain and I am hating that there are people feeling it over her loss right now. It is a cruelty inherent in love and I am so sad for them.
And I am sad for the loss of her unique voice in new words. I’m so grateful for what she left behind, but I miss the things she never got to write down, the stuff she didn’t get to think through yet.
But I am profoundly grateful that she spoke at all. Rachel Held Evans, even in her death, is leading and teaching and offering wisdom. The power of her well-lived life is evident in ways that will only grow from this day forward. The impact she’s had by being honest and thoughtful and supremely her lives no less fully now. This is no comfort to her people – the ones who will have to find her past the distraction of her absence – and it doesn’t negate the loss. As so many have written, Rachel was distinctly aware and skillfully articulate about holding all of it: the Sunday with the Friday. We don’t gloss over mourning, we move through it and with it.
And in her death, as only one who has lived as faithfully as she can, she reminds us to live up to the people we are becoming. Rachel is not finished and she can keep teaching, keep inspiring, keep offering herself as a friend to all the wandering because of the life she lived.
Rachel shared so much with us so we know that there is some version of Rachel freshly confronting the “unraveling” of her faith, unsure where to go next, unsuspecting of the path she would carve out for so many. There is Rachel learning all about eshet chayil and bestowing “woman of valor” like a gift. And I don’t know how it works, but I believe there is Rachel now somehow seeing the depth of her life – how indelibly it matters, how beautifully she serves her purpose, how deeply she is loved.
Thank you, Rachel, for bringing your whole self to the table and pulling up a chair for us to do the same.