In Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans takes readers on her journey of losing faith, leaving church, and then finding a way to return to both. I loved this book because it reflected my personal experiences in so many ways.
Evans had me underlining and in tears in the Prologue of this book.
“We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff – biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”
I nodded along to every word. I am so tired of easy, pat answers. I find myself seeing far more gray areas than black and white anymore. I want to find Christians who are willing to talk openly about issues without forcing me toward a specific answer.
“When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; its meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.”
I really loved this because it mirrors my own journey to Eastern Orthodoxy. My evangelical faith seemed to always be something abstract, yet treated like something I needed to carry, to hold on to with my own power. Liturgy and sacraments gave me a way to make that faith concrete, tactile, and more meaningful.
The book is mostly a memoir, but it is arranged around seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. In the prologue Evans talks about her reasons for organizing her book this way: “My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary. They are tent pegs anchoring my little tabernacle of a story to the ground.” I love her literary approach, and I can learn from it (and, in my opinion, so can some other Christian writers). Evans is always humble and ready to acknowledge the fact that she is not a trained theologian, but to me, that is what makes her such an effective one. I see a lay theologian asking, reading, searching, and talking about God with a spirit of humility, inquiry, and love.
As the book unfolds, Evans writes with honest humility and openness about her own disintegrating attitudes toward church. She admits that all her cynicism and questioning wears on her husband Dan, even though he offers her a spirit of patience and understanding. She wades through well-meaning sentiments spoken to her when people find out she was a doubter. She even chides herself for selfishly wondering who will bring them casseroles when they have babies if they leave the church? This self-awareness really adds a layer of grit and reality to this book; I felt every feeling she did. Evans has both the gift of vulnerability and the gift of writing about it.
“I have friends who struggled for years to disentangle themselves from abusive, authoritarian churches where they were publicly shamed for asking questions and thinking for themselves . . . I have no serious injuries to report, no deep scars to reveal. I left a church of kind, generous people because I couldn’t pretend to believe things I didn’t believe anymore.”
Yes! I thought. Here I am, a PK, an MK, a woman who has always been involved in church, whether it was evangelical or liturgical. I have sung in choirs and taught Sunday School and led VBS and helped with women’s retreats. Sure, I made a big church switch ten years ago, but faith has always been a defining factor of my life. Sure, I have gone through some difficult times, particularly the death of my brother and my parents’ divorce. However, I don’t feel like my church is bad, or the people are mean, or anything like that. The people I worship with are kind and loving and helpful and good. They are my friends. My church is beautiful and the music is lovely and the prayers are authentic. I guess where I am is that I’ve let go of some of the beliefs I used to hold so tightly to, and I just don’t want to pretend anymore.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2!