Review posted March 18, 2022.
HarperOne, 2021. 196 pages.
Review written March 10, 2022, from a library book
2022 Sonderbooks Standout:
#2 Christian Nonfiction
Beloved author Rachel Held Evans passed away suddenly in 2019 at 37 years old. She had unpublished work and manuscripts, and her husband asked her friend and collaborator Jeff Chu to finish and edit the book for her. The beginning and end of the book include tributes to Rachel and an explanation of how this book came to be.
This book is beautiful. The bulk of it is entirely in Rachel's voice. I learned once again how much I relate to her personally -- how much my own spiritual journey has been like hers. We were both good Sunday school students, winning prizes for knowing the Bible. We both went even more all-in during college at a conservative Christian college. And we both wound up in a much more progressive and gracious place than where we were brought up to be, though our adult journeys diverged much more than our youths did -- but the end result seems very much the same.
And I love everything she writes in this book. From our similar backgrounds, I've got some of the same hang-ups as she did - for example, growing up with a focus on sin and what we "deserve." I, too, am blown away by the thought from a poem by Daniel Ladinsky that God adores His creation.
These words seemed dangerous, heretical even. They seemed too good to be true. And yet did they not call to mind the poetry of the prophets, who spoke to Israel of a God who "will exult over you with loud singing," who has "called you by name," and who has "loved you with an everlasting love"? Did they not sound like the God of Hebrew Scripture, who soared over creation in the beginning and declared every flower and fish and tree and human in it "good"? Did they not echo the letters of a saint who proclaimed that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God"? Did they not sound like Jesus, who, through the smooth laminate of my AWANA workbook, first told me that "God so loved the world"?
This book tells Rachel's story of getting to that place where she could believe those words, and then continues on to "Essays on the Christian Life." The result is short chapters that I could read easily one per day - and I was always uplifted.
There's a chapter on the Sabbath, and I loved the thought that God asks us to do less, not more.
My point in dwelling on the Sabbath -- my own hope in dwelling in the Sabbath -- is to remember that our beginnings were grace and rest, and our ends will be too. If there's any truth in any of this Christianity thing, it is that our existence started with rest, with the opportunity to glory in having earned nothing and done nothing, and it will find its culmination in rest, with the joy of feasting in the knowledge that we earned none of this abundance and had to do nothing to enjoy this goodness, nothing, that is, other than to simply receive.
But my very favorite section in the whole book comes in the essay Jeff Chu chose to put at the end of the book, as Rachel's last message to her readers:
We can be gracious because we are grateful. We can love because we have been loved.
On the days when I believe, I know all this to be true. On the days when you believe, I hope you'll know this to be true too. I hope you'll feel deep within your heart and with every cell of your being that you are held and embraced by the God who made you, the God who redeemed you, and the God who accompanies you through every end and onward to every beginning.
Even on the days when I'm not sure I can believe it wholeheartedly, this is still the story I'm willing to be wrong about.
This book makes me sad that it's the last one we'll get from Rachel Held Evans, but the words of this book fill me with joy. Highly recommended.