[Today, thanks to the brilliant heart of our own Sarah Bessey, some of us around the web are taking time to celebrate the life and ministry of Rachel Held Evans, whom many of us have been honoured to call teacher and friend. Today, her new book releases. We wanted to throw a book launch party for her, but geography made that difficult. So from rainy Scotland to clear-skyed Portland, we're offering digital thanks. You can read other “toasts” to Rachel at JR Goudeau’s blog and add your own.]
My dear daughters,
Someday, little ones. That’s the promise your Father made while he was still living at the end of the world, casting stones into the North Sea and whispering prayers woven with midmorning lark feathers, sent flying out over the blue.
Someday. It was repeated in meter and rhyme, a refrain in the litany of a better world longed for, a world that you do not know was dreamt for you. Dreamt for you, tangle of foreign but bonded sisters, interwoven fibers of biology and circumstance, some mine by form and some mine by reception, but all mine by Child.
You did not know your Father in the seasons when he would have described himself as uncertain concerning you. You did not know him in the days when he wondered if calling had relation to hierarchy, if there were certain ways of serving the One that was not yours to take simply because of the happy accident of your birth.
Children, you did not know him in the days he would sit at his own parents’ table, legs not quite touching the floor, dangling in rhythm as he asked for the third or fourth time, Why not? You did not know that he asked this question every season, around every bend, and though there had always been an answer, he never accepted it as truth. He entertained it, acquiesced to it, but the question of honour and valour and kingdom churned still and would not leave him until he laid out all the pieces, slowly and carefully.
You shall have heard your Mother and I talking sometimes about the people who were changing the conversation of our Faith for the better when we were coming of age. You’ll have heard us mention Hans Urs von Balthasar more than once, Ellen Davis, Alison Milbank, Eleonore Strump, Henri de Lubac, NT Wright. But you’ll have heard of the others as well, the ones who wrote popular works that brought those conversations to our kitchen tables, like Lauren Winner, Wendell Berry, Madeleine L’Engle, Maggi Dawn, and so many others that we forget who is still living here and who has since gone on to that place of glory.
You’ll have heard, too, the people we were friends with in that time where words were sculpted by digital scribe, some of those beloved friends having written some of our favourite books. Books that were important. Books that are important. Books that you might not know have a lot to do with the freedom and beauty you hear whispered against your ears before you’re put to bed for the night.
But perhaps what you won’t have heard, so I need to tell you now, is that when your Father had questions and doubts, when he was so sure about being unsure, there was a collection of certain people who made him space to ask and seek.
There’s a particular woman, daughters, that you owe a certain measure of thanks to. I have to be careful in what I say, because she is the sort of woman who would not want more credit than she thinks she deserves and she’d shy away from flattery. But you should know that Rachel Held Evans, in a world that seems so far away from now, wrote a little book that made a lot of people have a lot of conversations. They weren’t always pleasant, they weren’t always gracious, but people were talking. But before that book, before all that conversation, she was the woman who answered emails from a young man trying to figure out how to reconcile the beautiful and the true and the good. She measured her responses with kindness and mercy, made enough space to challenge and enough space to comfort.
You owe her more than you know, because her voice was the form the Holy Ghost decided to take to speak to your Father’s heart. She spoke slow and patient, and He wove her words with gentle challenge, until he finally saw the rippling, crackling light in the firmament of his wondering and saw the hope of the other side.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Do you know, precious daughters, that these words were once prayed without thought for you? Do you know they were prayed in rote and haste? Do you know that now they are prayed with careful yearning, that to speak of on earth as it is in heaven is to speak of neither Jew nor Greek is to say that you are priests in your own right, servers at the same great Table?
Someday. It was the promise I made for you so very long ago. I said someday you would know that you must and shall go free, shall bear our Christ in the open fields and sing the redemption song among the wildflowers. And though she would not ask for it, though she would say that there are scores others that deserve more notice than her, I want you to know that there was a time, a place, so long ago now at the end of the world, where a woman of valour named Rachel was thinking of you, even though she had not known you, and she set words onto a page because she believed in the God who has and shall always overcome.
And when we light the candles on All Saints Day, when we sing the ancient hymns, she is near among all the others, she is not forgotten, she is not so very far away.