The Most Terrible Honor
Some thoughts on the forthcoming Rachel Held Evans book "Wholehearted Faith," the herbs in my yard, and a song that reminds me of a love beyond all loves
Thursday, July 8
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Hello, dear reader.
I come to this week’s letter with a mix of grief, dread, and gratitude. To be honest, I could probably say that every week—such is the strange life of a writer. I’ve known for a while now that this day was coming, when I’d have to tell you about a writing project that has consumed much of the past eighteen months. Still, here I am, late on Thursday afternoon, writing and deleting, writing and deleting.
Sometimes love manifests itself in laughter and hugs, shared delight and the making of happy memories. Other times, you feel it most acutely in the absence of those good things. Instead, love takes the form of sorrow and tears, enduring through the remembrance of delight and in the echoes of those happy memories.
In late 2019, Dan Evans, Rachel Held Evans’s widower, called to ask if I would finish the book that Rachel was working on when she died. I wanted to say no. But this was one way in which I could show up for Dan and the kids—and one way in which I could honor a friend who had so often said “yes,” insistently and lovingly, to me.
The book is called Wholehearted Faith.
Working on this book has been the most terrible honor, the most beautiful hardship, and the most difficult writing project of my career. I miss my friend so much. I miss the way she encouraged so many. I miss how she showed such gorgeous solidarity with so many people, especially queer folks and women of color. I miss her gentle ribbing and her teasing texts. I miss the consistency with which she proclaimed a gospel that was truly good. I miss the steadfastness with which, wherever you were on your journey, she made space and came alongside you and encouraged your bold questions and cultivated hope and nudged us toward a more expansive, more faithful love.
My hope is that Wholehearted Faith honors that spirit and that love. Maybe I’ll share more in the coming weeks and months about the writing process and what went into this book—or maybe not. I really don’t want to make this about me, because it isn’t about me. This is about Rachel. This is about Rachel’s faithful heart and the mark it left on the world. This is about Rachel’s countercultural generosity, which was one of her gorgeous ways of bearing witness to a love that makes room, that works to rectify injustice, that comforts the suffering, that seeks to heal wounds, and that embraces all.
You can pre-order the book now here. And here’s the official press release:
HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, today announced it will publish WHOLEHEARTED FAITH by Rachel Held Evans, who passed away May 4, 2019, on November 2, 2021. The deal was negotiated by Kathryn Renz Hamilton for World rights at HarperOne and brokered by Rachelle Gardner at Books & Such Literary Agency (now with her own agency at Gardner Literary).
Evans had been working on a new book about wholeheartedness, and now, with the help of her close friend and author Jeff Chu, a foreword by her husband, Daniel Jonce Evans and an afterword by Nadia Bolz-Weber, that work-in-progress has been woven together with some of Evans’s other unpublished writings into a rich collection of essays that ask candid questions about the stories we’ve been told—and the stories we tell—about our faith, our selves, and our world. Evans’s writing has always been theologically astute yet beautifully personal, and this book is no different. Full of her trademark humor, her sharp observations, and her compassion, it appeals to those within the church, those who have been rejected by the church, and those seeking spiritual wholeness. Evans created spaces both online and off for a diaspora of searchers, doubters, and believers who did not fit into conservative Christianity. This legacy lives on among her friends, her fellow authors, and her readers who share Evans’s heart for a Christian church—and a world—that is more inclusive, more loving, and more just.
Evans organized and spoke at conferences and was a New York Times bestselling author of four books: Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions; A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master; Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church; and Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.
Hamilton said, “In discussing this project with Rachel before she passed, it was clear how passionate she was about her next book. Even though we will never have the full version of what could have been, what we have here is a gift and a reminder of how Rachel’s words continue to shape people’s lives, hearts, and the trajectory of Christianity in America.”
What I’m Growing (and Cooking): When I went to check the backyard plot at the end of winter, I was glad to see that the sage and chives had successfully overwintered. A few weeks later, I was at the side of the house and noticed that a patch of thyme, which I thought had died because I forgot to water it last summer, had sprung back to life. And then the seemingly lifeless rosemary branches in the pots on our front steps began to sprout green—another unexpected sign of resilience.
One of the reasons I like to grow herbs is that whenever I buy them at the farmers’ market or the grocery store, I end up wasting some. There’s always too much in a bunch or in a box for what I actually need. In addition to the herbs that survived the (admittedly mild) winter, I’ve planted basil and parsley this season. So I can just go outside and harvest what I need for that meal. Sometimes I joke about the vegetables I grow being the most expensive in Grand Rapids, but that’s not true about the herbs. My $4.75 packet of organic basil seeds, for instance, has more than paid for itself. We’ve had several meals of pesto, and last night, I used the basil two ways: first, in the cream-cheese mixture that I stuffed into some zucchini blossoms that I then dusted in rice flour and fried, and then a quick chiffonade to top a very simple rigatoni with tomato sauce. But some wild creature also likes basil, because the plant in the pot on our front steps looks like this. Any ideas?
What I’m Listening to: When I started seminary, my friend Noah made me a playlist, which he called “Songs to Attend to.” In the years since, I’ve returned to it again and again. On days when I’m especially tired, especially frayed, one song in particular meets me: “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go.” Sandra McCracken’s voice and the mandolin—or is it the banjo? I’m not sure—sweep me up in their embrace and tell me a story that I’ve heard repeatedly before but really need to hear again. I love these old words set to a new tune:
Oh love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be
Oh light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in thy sunshine's blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be....
I need to be reminded, and often, of that love, that light. Maybe you do too.
If you’ve read Rachel’s work, it would be a comfort and a gift to me to know what difference she made in your life.
Thanks to all of you who shared stories and reflections last week. As promised, Tristan drew two names: we’ll be sending strawberry jam to Amy K. and Soma Amber. (If you haven’t emailed me your addresses yet, please do so!)
I’m so glad we can stumble through all this together, and I’ll try to write again soon.