Have you ever been sitting in church, singing a hymn or song, and caught yourself thinking, “I don’t know if I believe any of this?”
If so, you may well relate to Rachel Held Evans’ experience of having a faith crisis, questioning and eventually leaving her childhood church, floundering in small pockets of Christian community, before eventually making her way back to a congregation in a different denomination. She structures the book around the seven Catholic and Orthodox sacraments (baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, marriage), because she says that, surprisingly, it was the sacraments that drew her back to faith and to the church:
“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, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
Part-memoir, part-reflection, part-essay, this is a beautiful, vulnerable book about finding church again when you feel like you’ve lost it.
I loved this book, and here are some reasons why:
- Room for all. You don’t have to be on the same page theologically as Rachel Held Evans to benefit from her process and experience. She doesn’t shy away from the hard and discomfiting questions about hell, women in ministry, and gay marriage, but this book doesn’t feel like a manifesto, it feels gentle and pastoral, a space to breathe and take stock.
- Insightful and relatable. This is always a sign of well-written memoir: her story is so astutely observed that it feels universal. She perfectly captures the lonely experience of grief, anger and defensive cynicism that accompanies a crisis of faith, and I found myself underlining passages, going “YES! This was me!” I was pretty convinced for a while that we were destined to become BFFs, but sadly I think it’s probably down to good writing, so I suspect there will be a long queue of potential other BFFs saying, ‘yes, me too!’ to her experiences.
- Her writing is elegant, witty, and intelligent. It is a joy to read. I knew from her blogs that she was a good writer, but this really brings out her dry humour:
“It was the ‘80s, so all my earliest memories of Jesus smell like hairspray.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
“The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
At the start of each section, there is a creative theological reflection on each of the sacraments, which are artful and art-full, and the ‘oil’ chapter especially, on the scent of God, just blew me away.
- Her perspective on healing: I am someone who has chronic illness, and her section on anointing the sick made me want to hug her. I have always been wary of this rite, but she reframed it in such a helpful way that I wish every pastor could read it. The whole section is quite simply brilliant:
“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
This is a book for those who’ve grown up in the church, but are now questioning their faith, or considering walking away from the church altogether. Rachel Held Evans doesn’t try to ‘fix’ her reader, but invites people to walk with her awhile, which is why, to me, it felt like sanctuary. I wholeheartedly recommend Searching for Sunday: beautiful, insightful and funny, this book will be a healing balm to many who doubt.
“Even when I don’t believe in church, I believe in resurrection. I believe in the hope of Sunday morning.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
The artwork is provided by talented illustrator Ruth Meharg, who produced these images in response to reading the book.
If you buy a copy and send Rachel the receipt, then you get a free album.
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