Writer and theologian Rachel Held Evans passed away a month ago, and was laid to rest just over a week ago. I don’t usually talk about belief on here, but this one’s going to bruise. She was so young — just 37 — and leaves behind a husband and two very young children.
Evans’ writing was a companion piece to my spiritual journey. I read her blog on and off over the years, always struck by the curiosity and intellectual rigor that formed the foundation of her posts. Her book Searching for Sunday spoke directly to my experiences growing up in evangelical/fundamentalist spaces. More recently, her Twitter presence exposed to me to numerous writers who expanded the possibilities of belief beyond the narrow context which I had been handed growing up.
The outpouring on Twitter after her death was — unsurprisingly — an incredible cross-section of people from vastly different spaces: black people, queer people, evangelicals, main line Protestants, even those who had long ago left religion behind. Reading those testimonials revealed how much work Evans did behind the scenes to carve out space for a bigger movement, filled with the folks that evangelicalism had discarded (or simply never let in to begin with). The NY Times podcast “The Daily” recently released a good, short episode on her impact and her legacy.
I am still trying to process why this death feels so much worse than that of other heroes who have died. During the sermon at her funeral service, Nadia Bolz-Weber said this one line:
I am crying, because this grief has opened the door and let in so much other grief, and I don’t know how to uninvite its friends to this party.
I’m sad about Evans’ death. I’m sad for the big, varied community that she leaves behind — all the writers and creators for whom she generously shared her time and influence: folks like Austin Channing Brown, who wrote this Twitter thread that left me weeping. But on a personal scale, Bolz-Weber had it right: the grief I feel about Evans’ passing also pried open a crack that let in a much larger grief, about how I’ve gradually lost my spiritual home over time.
Rest in peace, Rachel.