Rachel Held Evans died on May 4, 2019 at age 37.
She left behind a grieving husband Dan, two small children, and a host of admirers including me.
She was the author of four books; I read her first one.
Her untimely death ignited a public outcry.
The Washington Post acknowledged her as a progressive Christian author, The Atlantic dubbed her a hero to Christian misfits, a joyful troublemaker online. The New York Times proclaimed her the voice of the wandering evangelical. She wedged open church doors for many an outcast.
Five years ago, I blogged about her first book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. You don’t even have to click a link to read my post published March 19, 2014:
This evening my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, is hosting author Rachel Held Evans, one of the foremost thinkers and writers in evangelical circles today who has appeared on Oprah and The View and spotlighted by NPR, the BBC and The Washington Post. Her spell-binding book will stir you to see women, biblical and otherwise, in a new light.
If your comfort zone is just too cozy to leave right now, you can read about a gutsy woman who ditched her comfy life-style, visiting “an Amish schoolhouse in Gap, Pennsylvania; a pig farm in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama.” Admitting to being domestically challenged, she took up knitting and baking even working her way through the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.
Rachel Held Evans characterizes herself as a liberated woman, but for one year she became an Old Testament woman who admits she “spent an afternoon on my rooftop, adopted a computer-baby, camped out in my front yard during my period,” and left eight pounds of dough to rise in my bathroom.”
Intrigued by many of her friends who abandoned their careers for traditional gender roles in the home, “Evans decided to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year,” sometimes pushing them to their literal extreme. The result is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” a New York Times best-seller.
Each chapter records a month in which Evans focuses on a biblical virtue: October – gentleness, November – Domesticity, and so on.There is nothing starchy about her subtitles with chapters like February/Beauty “My Breasts are Like Towers” and March/Modesty “Hula-Hooping with the Amish,” who she mentions don’t wear white for their weddings because it’s worldly and don’t marry in June because that’s worldly too!
The end of each chapter “month” features a character study of women like Eve or Mary Magdalene, but includes more obscure women like Junia, the Apostle or Huldah, the Prophet. That’s where Evans’ astute scholarship is most evident. With two unanswered questions, author Evans plunges into astonishing biblical research as her 8 pages of documentation verify: What does God truly expect of women? Is there a prescription for biblical womanhood? She admits:
I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives—a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. I scoured the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I could find about mothers, daughters widows, wives, concubines, queens, prophetesses, and prostitutes.
But Rachel had divine help along her pathway: Ahava, an orthodox Jew she met online who advised Rachel on all things Jewish. Guys in the food aisles at a Wal-Mart in East Tennessee who helped her search for Kosher ingredients for her Seder celebration. And her ever-accommodating husband Dan, whom she praises with a home-made sign at the city gates of Dayton, Tennessee, near where they live.
Evans’ book is definitely a page-turner. I read her 310-page book in under 3 days. As one reviewer exclaims; “An unexpected, laugh-out-loud then turn the page and tear up, enjoyable and poignant read.” Another agrees that Rachel Evans tackles “the most sacred cows, willing to ask the trickiest questions” and observing fresh perspectives. For example, she reminds readers that it took the defiance of two queens to save the Jews—Esther by appearing before the king, Vashti by refusing to.”
Her website: www.rachelheldevans.com
Eschewing the traditional interpretation of Proverbs 31 that yokes most women with unreachable goals, Evans strives instead to be more like the Hebrew Eschet chayil, woman of valor, at its core a blessing to invoke, not a title to be earned. “plain and fancy” observation
My brother Mark also died in May. Like Rachel’s, his death was unexpected.
One year ago today, on May 22, our brother passed from this life. He never made headlines. He got a certificate of attendance instead of a high school diploma. Yet, his death affected those who knew him as deeply as Rachel’s passing affected her throng of followers.
I wrote several blog posts about him. I recorded his life in pictures. My journal contains only a summary of the three weeks we stood vigil, not the daily notations I usually record.
I have never journaled about Rachel Held Evans, whom I did not know personally.
My journal records my sorrowful thoughts about my brother.
I grieved for my brother. I still do.
Because he was family.
Good morning, Marian. I’m so sorry you are grieving for your brother, but I understand that of course you are. It’s good that you can mark and remember the anniversary today, as I think perhaps that helps. Sending you many hugs!
I haven’t read any of Rachel Held Evan’s work. I didn’t realize she was so young when she died.
Thank you for your words of comfort Time passes so quickly, and I really can’t fathom the idea that Mark has been gone already a year.
Because you are the first responder, I’m going to post the magnitude of Rachel’s reach here. I had no idea myself she had touched so many lives since five years ago when I read her first book.
Here is the info from Rachel’s website “About” page; Rachel has been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Christianity Today, Slate, The Huffington Post, The CNN Belief Blog, and on NPR, The BBC, The Today Show, and The View. She served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and keeps a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and colleges and universities around the country. WOW!
Marking the day of Mark’s death – my thoughts are with you Marian. I remember him from your posts about him. A good man, gone to rest, too soon. I’ve read about Rachel Held Evans and her untimely death in the media. Thank you for the review of her book on the biblical women. It sounds like a must read. A huge and scholarly task to undertake. This day is Mark’s – all loving thoughts as you remember him.
Thank you for your condolences, Susan. We miss Mark!
It’s not the length of life but the quality, I think: Mark 64 and Rachel, 37. With all of her accolades, I think she want to be remembered most of all as a kind, compassionate Christian woman.
I remember your post last year, after Mark passed. Sending warm thoughts and prayersas you mark the one year anniversary, Marian. Rachel certainly accomplished a lot in her short time here on earth.
I know you remember Mark, and I thank you for sending comforting thoughts. I learned about Rachel several years agowhen she published her first book. When I checked her website today, I was astonished she had accomplished so much in the brief span of years since then. Thank you, Jill!
I followed RHE on twitter and I found her common sense + theological knowledge a delight. I’ve not read any of her books, but they’re on my TBR list. Now after reading your thoughts on her writing, and how she ties in with you brother, I need to move the books up my list. Blessing today, Marian.
Rachel had wisdom, knowedge, and common sense, such a balance. I think that’s part of the reason why her life and work resonated with so many. At her death, you may have noticed a huge lament on social media. “We want her back,” they said. Not possible, though.
Most of all, I feel deep sorrow for the bereaved family, husband Dan and their wee ones.
Thanks for your good thoughts and blessings, Ally!
Sending thoughts of comfort to you and your families as you grieve your brother’s passing. What a quick year and so much that has been accomplished. May you find joy knowing your faithful readers are standing behind you, our hands on your shoulder.
I’m still feeling the comfort of your words, “our hands on your should,” which I read earlier today. Life passes so quickly. It’s important to make every day count ~ and to count the blessings of faithful readers, including you. Thank you so much, Ginger.
Our losses are many, yet they live on within us and become inspirations for the world. Thinking of you, Marian and wishing you and yours a day filled with love.
Your presence here helps fill my day with love. <3
You are right, we can't live without experiencing loss. Thanks for stopping by, Joan. I hope you and Bill are doing well.
Wow. What a beautiful tribute to Rachel and Mark. May God give you peace. Anniversaries like this are hard.
I haven’t read any of Rachel’s books. But now you’ve made me curious.
Thanks for reading today, L. Marie, and leaving a comment. Here is a link to Rachel’s website: https://rachelheldevans.com
You’ll find her four books listed there; She loved everybody, but didn’t suffer gladly the hypocritical attitude.
Brother Mark, a kind and gentle man. Surrounded daily by a few of his friends at Gus’ Keystone Diner for breakfast, he enjoyed simple meals, reading the newspaper and was most likely not thinking how he could achieve to the next great level of the corporate ladder.
A loving quirk: If Mark called on the phone to Marian from PA he would often say “This is Mark…your brother.” Always smiling at his salutation, Marian somehow always remembered he was her brother. He also was often concerned about our welfare when he saw on the news that bad weather or hurricanes could possibly impact our area.
By faith Mark went to live in a better place.
You are making me smile recalling his phone calls with his cautious introduction, as though I could ever forget my baby brother. And when I think about his huge concern when he saw Hurricane Matthew barreling toward coastal Florida, I tear up! I know for certain that Mark is in a better place, fully alive in body and mind. 😊
Marian — I remember your post about Mark’s death. From everything you’ve shared, he was a kind and gentle soul. His passing is our loss. I hope that fond memories bring a smile to your heart today.
Fond memories and the collection of good wishes here, including yours, Laurie – thank you!
I recall your heartfelt posts about your dear brother. Having lost a brother, I can empathise. He will be in your heart forever.
Yes, you mentioned losing your brother, Darlene. I think he was younger than you as well. It seems extra hard when siblings die out of chronological order. Thanks for remembering with me! 😊
My heart is overflowing right now, Marian, on this day of sorrow. I just said a prayer for you, asking God to give you His comfort on this day.
On my last birthday, I realized that I am now the same age my maternal grandfather was when he died. I counted the days from his birthday to his date of death. Today is the same number of days since my birthday. So today, I am exactly the same age that my grandfather was when he died of lymphoma in Sloan-Kettering hospital.
It is a sobering thought. My grandfather ran a farm. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army and fought in World War 2. When the war ended, he went back to farming and he also took a job as a prison guard. He worked his way up until he was the associate warden of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He was eventually offered the position of warden of another prison, but he chose to take early retirement, instead.
I don’t remember my grandfather ever being sick. One day, my grandmother sent me a letter in which she mentioned that my grandfather had a chest cold. Somehow I knew it was much more serious than that. Less than two months later, with the best of medical care, he was gone.
When I was a child, my grandfather seemed invincible. But he has been gone now for forty years. And today, I am exactly the same age that he was when he died.
Life goes by so fast. Without faith in the Lord, how could we bear the thought of our own mortality, and the mortality of everyone we love?
You have written a moving tribute to your grandfather, and I enjoyed reading it. What a history! I do agree – life with my Lord would be unbearable, Linda Lee. Thank you!
Has it really been a year already? I remember reading about your brother’s illness and untimely passing and I am sorry that a year on another young and talented human being has left you greaving yet again. One can only hold on to the fond memories we have of our dear ones and only time can ease the pain slightly as we form more memories with those left behind and near us for companionship and comfort. Big hug.
Thanks for the hugs ~ and the remembrance. Yes, Fatima, thanks for reminding me how important it is to make new memories with the ones that still surround us. You are sweet to comment here; I feel surrounded with love! 🙂
May it always be so. ❤
Interesting. I read “A Year of Living Biblically,” so the female take on the concept is of interest.
This is a poignant, meaningful date for you. May you find joy in the memories of your brother.
Thanks, Arlene. So, you have read her first book too! So I don’t have to tell you she was quite a firebrand. I suspect she never colored inside the lines in grade school. Ha!
You will remember both of these losses in the month of May in the years to come, Marian, but it is your brother’s loss what leaves the bigger hole. So glad you and your sisters had their dear brother for many years, even if they ended too soon. On this side of the veil.
The memory of Rachel’s death date may fade, but I’ll always Mark’s in May. Aunt Ruthie died on Mother’s Day, and Mark in the same month, a year later. I’m glad that neither member of the older generation had to attend Mark’s funeral.
Your reference to the “veil” reminds me that death is a separation, suggestive of transition: For now we see through a glass darkly, but one day, face to face: glorious!
Thank you for this reminder, Shirley.
I’m amazed it was only a year ago that Mark died. Understandably it looms large in your life; I read recently we have no word in our language for this loss: if we lose a spouse, we are widowed or a widower; if we lose a parent, we’re an orphan. If we lose a sib, we are left at sea, disoriented, reshaping life. I guess there’s no specific or special word either if we experience the loss of a child. Indeed no words! Those of us here in the valley linked the death of a 10 year old (Mennonite) daughter after a mysterious infection of about 3 weeks and died around Easter. The came Rachel’s mystery illness. Too much.
I was astounded as everyone else about the too early death of Rachel Held Evans. I met her on two occasions–at EMU and at Orlando 2 years ago–got her to sign one of her books. I loved her writing and her engagement with those who disagreed with her. Blessings as you continue to miss your dear brother.
Thank you for all of your sweet thoughts here, especially those about Mark. It seems more like nine months, not a full year, since we said goodbye to him.
I’m glad you mentioned Rachel’s willingness to engage with her critics. She must have thought of them as her teachers of a sort, keeping an open mind to opposing viewpoints. And isn’t the ability to do that, after all, the mark of an educated person? You are fortunate to have her signature on a book. I wonder which one that is.
I read two of her books: The one I reviewed here and Searching for Sunday, which I passed on to a family member. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Melodie!
Marian, I too was touched by your story of your brothers death last year. Thank you for bringing him back to our awareness and heart again this year. He seems, from your descriptions, a dear hearted man. A year is far too short a time to fully grieve a life, especially of a family member. Blessings sent to hold you in this time of remembrance.
The other point I take away from what you posted is the juxtaposition of the well known life and the life known only to circles of family, friends, community. I may have written this before, but I recall how unsettling it was to be driving home from a hospital in Chicago where my father had just died that morning from cancer in 1999 (after a week of sitting with him as his life force ebbed away. I couldn’t reconcile the sunny day, the children playing with the pain welled up in my heart. How could it be so? How could children be playing? Our father is gone. Our loss is great.
Both lives had merit, and vaue. One of the two lives had a bigger platform (and very interesting one too). Yet, we don’t really know the value and place of any life, do we? Hugs to you.
When I began writing this post, I don’t believe I thought so much about the “juxtaposition of the well known life and the life known only to circles of family, friends, community,” but so it is. Both lives have had merit and value. Those left behind want others to know that the life of the one they mourn had meaning. I know I do.
Another juxtaposition I appreciate your mentioning: Children at play on a sunny day while you are trying to absorb the tremendous blow. of your father’s death. It reminds me of W. H. Auden’s poem Musee des Beaux Arts, a poem you may remember from lit studies. One image especially vivid is that of Icarus falling out of the sky to his death while the farmer plows his field, completely unaware of the tragedy.
Thanks for contributing here. I will accept the hugs, too, Audrey!
We’ll never understand God’s plans when he chooses to take away our loved ones. A sad, but lovely tribute to your brother Marian. And a great loss to the writing world on Rachel’s passing. 🙁
Last year we sisters bought a brick to be inscribed with Mark’s name and birth/death dates to place along with others beside the walking path at the hospice center. The commemoration was to take place this past Sunday, but the bricks (there had to be dozens!) weren’t ready. :-/
Our siblings aren’t supposed to die out of birth order, but who are we to question God’s plans. The best we can do is pay tribute to their memory, Thanks for your remembrance here, Debby.
I agree Marian, sibling shouldn’t die out of birth order just as parent shouldn’t outlive their child <3
Exactly! But, sadly, it happens . . .
As you know, Marian, I lost my youngest brother very suddenly and unexpectedly, just over a month ago. My siblings and I are grieving together, shocked that he was the first to go, when he was the middle child in the family. I am surprised at how it affects me physically as much as emotionally. Did you experience that as well?
Yes, you did honor him with a tribute on your blog, I believe. It’s hard when siblings die out of birth order as I mentioned to Debby. Yes, too, there is a reason the English language has the word heart-ache. I have felt an ache in my chest when close family members leave us. Perhaps it is a way the body releases sorrow and inscribes their memories into our hearts.
Again, my condolences to you, and all who knew your brother, Elfrieda.
Yes, I remember well your tribute to your dear brother. What a gift he was, and remains, in the hearts of those who love him. The hope of seeing him again, perhaps, lightens the grief but will never remove it. Sending love your way today, Marian.
I have RHE’s book you mention here on my Kindle. I’ve had it for years but haven’t read it yet. Your words inspire me to open it up.
Just a minute ago I read your daily blog. The photos, once again, are spectacular, and I’m wondering about your cryptic, top-secret project. Hmmmm
You certainly know how to build suspense.
Thanks for your kind words of comfort, Linda. Yes, resurrection hope lives on in our hearts!
Ah, I wasn’t clear on my post this morning. The yet-to-be-made-public projects with top secret names are remnants from my working life. No more of those things anymore, thank goodness!
Ah, well, you did get my attention, and you know I read your blog. 😀
How do you do it? Every. Single. Day?
You may recall how I started posting every day during the month of my ten year blogging anniversary. When the month ended, it had become a habit and I just kept going. It’s been almost two years now and it’s just part of my morning routine. 🙂
Wow, Linda! I don’t know anyone in my online reach who has blogged for twelve (12!) years and then has sustained a daily blog post for two of them. You are definitely the poster woman for making blogging, an ingrained habit, part of your morning routine. 🙂
Our grief for loved ones is a natural progression of feeling the loss of hugging, and talking, and being with this special person in our waking time, be it mom, dad, sibling, spouse, friend. Faith is realizing that our loved one has not been lost but is forever with us. 💙🙏
I have that faith. You are so kind (insightful too) to remind me of this. Sometimes I “talk” to Mark’s picture when I walk by it in the family room. That’s how he is with me right now. We had 64 years of shared history. Thanks, Pamela!
My heart beats softly along with yours, in sympathy and understanding. I “talk” to my dad all the time when I go for walks. It helps.
I remember the blog posts about your brother, Marian. I can’t believe that this was already one year ago. Unexpectedly losing someone, especially a family member, especially a sibling is tough. We mourn for many years and will never forget!
I have never heard of author Rachel (I do live in a different world :-)), but dying so young and leaving behind so many admirers on top of a grieving family… Sigh!
I used to like the month of May, but things like this (on top of the incredibly awful weather we’ve been having in the Southwest) does not make me a happy camper. 🙁
Yes, writing four books before the age of 37 is quite an accomplishment. Her books will live on, but the thing that survives most of all is her compassion and attitude of inclusion when it comes to spiritual matters. She and her husband Dan were joined at the hip, for sure! I can’t imagine his loss.
Earlier this morning I paid you a visit. I’m sorry the Utah wether is a pain these days. I guess we can both be thankful we didn’t have to experience the tornado that ripped through Missouri a few days ago.
Here’s to a happy weekend, Liesbet.
So sorry to hear about your brother – some deaths just leave too large a hole…
Evans sounds like such a great character!
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment today, Lady Fi. I just read your post and then shared your link with another dog lover, Liesbet, who commented above. 🙂
Such a beautiful smile your brother has . I can see the kindness in his eyes , you must miss him dreadfully 😔
I have not heard of Rachel Held Evans but she sounds like a fiesty lady . Her book is on my list . It breaks my heart to hear of her untimely death . One never knows .
You are always so complimentary and just know how to lift my spirits on this Friday morning. I just sent off some final edits to the people doing layout on my book.
I hope you are enjoying your day. I plan to just relax! Thanks, Cherry!
I’m sorry about your brother. It’s not “something to get over” or to be taken lightly. Today my dear friend Ruth is being buried. Her death was sudden and dropped me into “daughter-esque” duties, though we are unrelated. Despite helping plan her funeral, giving a eulogy, choosing her final clothes and cleaning out her closets and craft nook, I wasn’t included in this final farewell. It’s probably just as well – she’s not here anymore. Someday we’ll all share a hug! XO
A comforting hug to you, Jenn, during this very difficult time. I can’t tell what happened so you ended up being excluded at the time of this final farewell. Still, I’m sorry about that. 🙁
It’s true: “Someday we will all share a hug,” a blessed hope.
What a beautiful and heart-opening post, Marian. Thank you. I knew just a little about Rachel Held Evans and felt a sting at the early death of a woman who could do so much good in her religious community and the world. She was a spiritual warrior. Thanks, too, for remembering and sharing your beloved brother Mark. I remember the vigil and how much he was loved in his community. People with big generous hearts transform us and our confused, suffering world.
After I read your blog post this week, I thought about how recently, so it seems, you’re life has changed. Not so long ago, you were holding vigil with Virginia, and caring for her needs as she made the transition from this life. Then came the challenge of tending to your hearing, both a huge internal and external shift. Now you are HERE, surviving and thriving. It takes a big, generous heart to do all this. Brava, Elaine!