When I Read Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood

womanhood-book3

Earlier this month, I told you that I had just finished reading Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’ and that, basically, it was the greatest thing ever. Well, last night I plowed through the notes and highlights that I had made while reading it, and my spirit got delighted all over again. This book is golden, folks. I cannot recommend it or gift it enough. Purchase it now, right now, and expect to laugh in public (but not care) and nod your head, brow furrowed, in public too (but still not care).

First of all, this book has become a New York Times bestseller, which automatically tells you that it’s great. But, for what it’s worth, I’m going to tell you that it’s great too. RHE decided to take one year to live out the rules that evangelicals assume to be vital to “biblical womanhood,” and she did so by dividing each month of the year into different themes to focus on with applicable goals to achieve per theme. (Then she wrote about it – that’s the book part.) Some Christians have been concerned that RHE wrote this book in mockery of the Bible, but that’s not at all true. As a woman who grew up within evangelical circles, she just wanted to figure out what exactly “biblical womanhood” is, what it consists of. She begins with the following:

“Now, we evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it’s Martin Luther’s middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own. Despite insistent claims that we don’t ‘pick and choose’ what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity.”

In ways that are both humorous and thoughtful, she addresses concepts like “the Proverbs 31 woman,” the importance of homemaking, and the necessity of submission to one’s husband. I, as the reader, was constantly engaged in her storytelling because I was listening to someone who was simply relaying what she had learned through personal experience; in my eyes, that gives credibility like little else. RHE’s honesty, thoughtfulness, and willingness to try to see all sides of the coin were what drew me in.

In response to the notion that “biblical women” should strive to be Proverbs 31 women, RHE explains that Proverbs 31 is not a dictum for us to follow. Instead, it is a story about a godly woman, a woman of valor (eshet chayil in Hebrew). “Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing – one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally . . . I suppose that the moral of this story is that trying to copy another woman, even a woman from the Bible, is almost always a bad idea. As Judy Garland liked to say, ‘Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.’ When I tried to conform my lifestyle to that of an ancient Near Eastern royal Jewish wife, I was a second-rate version of the Proverbs 31 woman, which misses the entire point of the passage. The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it – with valor.

In response to the notion that women should be gentle and quiet, she says, “I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground. Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften.

In response to the stay-at-home mom versus the working mom debate, she says (and this is my personal favorite part of the book), “Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner. As Elizabeth Barret Browning famously put it: 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Faith’s not about finding the right bush. It’s about taking off your shoes.”

Convinced that this is a must-read yet?

In response to these things, I say: May we choose joy by living thankful; may we see God in the particulars and in the wide expanse; may we sit down and take off our shoes; may we take off our shoes and keep walking on holy ground, Moses-like; may we not live closed-eyed to heaven-crammed earth but, instead, may we live awestruck at the glory of God in the blackberry, in the ocean tides, in the workroom, in the peninsulas, in the broken and in the restored. Thanks, Rachel Held Evans, for pointing me in this direction. This, after all, is the crux of what it means to be a biblical anything – man, woman, or child.

 

January 29 Joy Dare: A Song Heard, A Soft Word, Light Seen
A Song Heard: Ben Sollee’s “The Globe”
A Soft Word: A conversation with a far-away friend
Light Seen: That springtime-balmy, storm-is-coming morning light

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