I am blessed to be surrounded by a religiously diverse group of friends and one of these friends proposed a book group to read Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I didn't know about this and was reluctant. You see being raised Roman Catholic and then becoming an Episcopalian and then a Unitarian Universalist, the Bible has not held as central a place in my religious and spiritual life as it might have been had I had been raised in different Christian traditions.
The book went on sale for Kindle and I bought the book so that my partner Donna could read it. I decided to at least read the introduction. Well once I started I couldn't stop. I found myself reading the book and laughing out loud. I found myself thinking in new ways about these ancient stories. I loved Rachel's writing and how she would be going along telling us a very humorous story and then conclude the chapter with a profound truth.
What I most appreciate about the book and about Rachel herself is the very serious way she engages with the Biblical text and her own faith traditions. In this I feel I have much in common with Rachel. I have wrestled with my own faith traditions. As I shared in my post about Lent, leaving the Catholic Church was a decision I did not take lightly or without mourning. Rachel does not critique her Evangelical background just to critique but rather she engages with it.
In the book, she engages with notions of Biblical womanhood on multiple levels - intellectually, in practice and through encountering people who have different experiences of Biblical womanhood such as an Orthodox Jewish woman and a woman in a polygamous marriage. She takes the Bible seriously - more seriously then I usually experience in my religious home of Unitarian Universalism.
I had the opportunity to hear Rachel speak here in Williamsburg - both her talk on the book and another conversation on faith and doubt. It was wonderful to meet her in person and hear her speak. The conversation on faith and doubt was amazing. I found myself critical of my chosen faith for being too superficial. While Rachel is very funny, which we often associate with not being serious, she takes her work and her faith very seriously. She chooses to deeply engage with and struggle, like Jacob struggling with the angel, with the Bible, with tradition and with her faith community.
I would encourage Unitarian Universalists to read this book if they too are longing to engage more deeply, to struggle with the Bible, with the hard texts, with the messages about women found within Christianity and our culture. Yet be prepared to be challenged because this book calls us to engage not just reject. It calls us to reexamine and engage in new ways. Sometimes it is easier just to reject and move on then to risk going deeper. I am glad I overcame my initial reluctance and dived in - my life and my faith are richer for it.