On Saturday, May 4, 2019 in the early hours of the morning, a beloved child of God named Rachel Grace Held Evans, died. She was surrounded by her beloveds – her family and friends; those who prayed and sang and wailed and anointed her body as she took her final breaths.
Rozella Haydée White and Rachel Held Evans
Prior to this holy moment, those of us who have been impacted by Rachel’s words and work have been keeping vigil under the #PrayforRHE hashtag for the past few weeks. This online gathering of seekers, devotees, wanderers, and wonderers of the faith had Rachel in common. You see, Rachel never met a stranger. Rachel shared her life and her love with us unflinchingly and graciously. Rachel struggled with her faith and the stories and traditions that formed her, publicly. In an era where faith and politics are talked about in secret, Rachel used her voice and a vision of God’s Divine love to expand our musings and invite us in to the sacred space of doubt.
For Rachel, to question and to doubt wasn’t a sign of a flimsy faith, a faith tossed to and fro. It was central to her faith and strengthened her faith. Doubt emboldened the Spirit within to use her to create timeless work. In her first book, Faith Unraveled, Rachel details how she used to be the girl that had all the answers until she stumbled across her crisis of faith. Rachel’s open-mindedness and open-heartedness led her to interrogate her faith with the same critical eye that she used to interrogate others’ faith. She soon realized that faith resided in the questions and rarely took root in the answers. Rachel encountered God’s expansive and inclusive love as made evident in the person we call Jesus and she was forever changed.
As Rachel changed, she shared her evolving faith with us. When she wondered why people still felt called to the Christian faith, she curated conversations for all to see that not one of us is alone in our wondering. Rachel routinely stood up to the powers and principalities in this world that sell the lie of scarcity and she provided the courage and vulnerability that so many of us needed to be empowered to do the same. She operated out of gracious, generous abundance and shared all she had with those she loved. Rachel had a mothering spirit and when you were with her, you felt truly seen, known, heard and loved.
I’ve also seen Rachel make mistakes publicly and apologize publicly. She admitted when she messed up. She then did the work to do better. Rachel was a white woman who knew her privilege and her fragility. Her private life and her relationships are a testament to her commitment to liberation for all.
I have experienced waves of grief and sadness followed by waves of gratitude and joy since her death. It’s been a struggle to hold these two things together. How do both take up residence in our hearts? What does it look like to mourn while you are still living? How do I honor the life and legacy of a dear sister, friend, and mentor?
Rachel’s illness and death have also left me wondering. I’m not sure what I believe about prayer anymore and it’s not just Rachel’s death that leads me to question the practice. The state of our world, the state of our relationships, the state of our individual and collective lives leave me curious about what I believe happens when we pray.
When we pray for healing.
When we pray for peace.
When we pray for liberation.
When we pray for justice.
When we pray for love.
What exactly happens when we offer up our feeble attempts of devotion or our trembling prayers on behalf of others or even our unworthy words of praise? I don’t know.
And you know what? Rachel taught me that not knowing was ok. Wondering is ok. Doubting is ok. Being angry and sad is ok.
And still, we have hope. We trust the story that many of us cling to because we don’t know any better. We trust that God is always with us. That the Spirit of God sustains us. That the love of God flows through each of us to create God’s beloved community right here and right now, on earth. And Rachel’s death leads me to believe the most unbelievable thing of all – that death doesn’t have the final word and that we WILL meet again.
Love strengthens us and love breaks us.
That’s why it’s so damn powerful.
And that’s why it’s so fucking scary. Rachel understood the power of love and she lavished it upon us. She loved us and we loved her. She strengthened us and now, we are breaking.
Rachel was a waymaker where most were gatekeepers. She was a truth-teller where others were lie-pedallers. She was a hope monger when some were fear pushers. She was a lover of the justice-seeking Jesus and had ZERO time for any other imagining of Jesus that excluded any part of God’s divine creation. Her righteous indignation and holy anger at injustice led her to take risks that opened doors and made the way for many, myself included. I would not be here, entering this next chapter without Rachel.
My book, Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World is released today.
Rachel was the first person to offer an endorsement and literally squealed with delight when I asked her to do so! She has been a consistent presence on my book writing journey, offering encouragement, resources and her very own platform to uplift me. Instead of asking why she would do this, I have decided to revel in her love and her joy. I didn’t know how to honor her in this moment but I know that if I didn’t celebrate the release of #LoveBigBook, she would not have been happy!
True humility is not about playing small. It’s about constantly pointing to the ones who came before us and honoring from where our gifts come. Rachel was truly humble. I hope to be like her – recognizing that every gift I have is from God and that people like Rachel have been waymakers in my life, and I am forever grateful.
I honor Rachel on this day and every day moving forward.
Woman of Valor, Warrior, Prophet, Beloved, Child of God
Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother
Lover of God, life, and people.
Until we meet again, well done, you good and faithful servant. Well done.
Continue to gather, share stories, and remember Rachel’s faith and life using the hashtags #PrayforRHE and #BecauseofRHE
Check out Evolving Faith, a conference that Rachel co-founded along with Sarah Bessey for wanderers, wonderers, and spiritual refugees to help you discover…You are not alone.
There are some amazing articles that just begin to touch the surface of the life that Rachel lived.
Slate: Rachel Held Evans, the Hugely Popular Christian Writer Who Challenged the Evangelical Establishment, Is Dead at 37
Created by her dear friends Sarah Bessy, Jeff Chu, and Jim Chaffee, please consider giving to this Go Fund Me campaign. Rachel’s beautiful babies and husband still must go on living and this one small way to support them.