Searching for Rachel

On Saturday morning, while boarding a cruise ship with my mother, the world received word that Rachel Held Evans died.

I never had the pleasure of knowing her in real life but, as a friend said, she was one of our friends. It’s a paradox that is sometimes created in the written world(s) of publishing, church, and social media — that a public figure, though technically a stranger, feels like a friend. We tweeted in the same circles. Our writer relationships overlapped. And, perhaps most significantly, we fought for each other — her fighting for inclusion and acceptance of women in religious leadership (as well as a much wider inclusion that made room for all sorts of people pushed out of church by evangelicalism), and us fighting to amplify her voice by sharing her work with our congregations when her books didn’t make it to the shelves of christian bookstores.

Friends fight for each other. So stranger or not, we were friends. And since the first texts hit my phone to share the terrible news, I’ve felt bereft. Surrounded by the nonstop uproarious faux joy of this cruise, I find myself retreating to quiet corners of the ship where there is enough stillness to grieve her.

This morning I reported to the onboard spa for a salt scrub that had been scheduled months ago. In the midst of that frivolous experience, I caught a glimpse of the tomb. With a strip of gauzy fabric pulled snug across my eyes, the kind technician tended to my body, anointing it for life in much the same way I imagine the women anointed Jesus’ body for burial. Scents, salves, a simple white sheet — with the application of each my mind wandered further into the tomb, searching for her.

Somewhere in the midst of that anointing, I heard her — or at least a whisper of what sounded like her writing voice. With the same encouragement she lavished on others in life, she exhorted us writers and preachers to step into the breach caused by untimely, unfair death, and to simply WRITE. Write for the sisters who continue to come after us as well as those who went before us. Write for our daughters and our sons. Write for the Kin-dom of God. Write because life depends upon the courage of everyday women and men of valor who partner with God both imperfectly and bravely.

I can’t presume to translate this paradoxical friendship into showing up for the real and primary grief of her husband, children, and in-person friends. But I can honor her work, her passion, her voice, her fierce faithfulness by using my own tiny platform to keep on writing and preaching and welcoming — and so can you. Let that be the gift we give in thanks to God for her life and work.

Rest in power and rise in glory, dear Rachel. In life, in death, and in new life with Christ, you are and ever will be a woman of valor.