Rooted coverRooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown Spark (May 4, 2021), 241 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon paperback $17.99

The subtitle of Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s book is a bit misleading, in that Rooted doesn’t really contain a lot of science. There is plenty of nature and spirit here, however. The book is reminiscent of the work of Loren Eiseley or Annie Dillard’s early masterpiece, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, with a good dose of medieval Christian mysticism thrown in.

Haupt writes about hope. She says that a Benedictine definition of hope is “that virtue by which we take responsibility for the future,” which imbues our actions with a “special urgency.”

Where Haupt does engage in science is where she discusses how science has proven that spending time in nature improves our physical health in measurable ways. She discusses what she calls forest baths, the practice of mindfully spending time in nature. And she invokes Carl Sagan who kept reminding us that “we are star stuff.” You may remember Sagan intoning those words if you watched the original PBS Cosmos series in the eighties. Haupt quotes Dr. Ashley King, a meteorite researcher at the Natural History Museum, who validates that sentiment. King says, “It is totally 100 percent true: nearly all the elements in the human body were made in a star and many have come through several supernovas.”

Haupt does not hide her anger about human offenses against nature. She fumes about a deer that was killed by an inept archer on a nature preserve located on land owned by the University of Washington, where hunting is prohibited. She writes about orca whales separated from their pods and taken to aquariums where most of them did not live long. Haupt is furious with her city government’s plan for destroying a starling nest and rescues one of the birds which becomes a loved household pet (about which she wrote an earlier book).

The author describes how, as a child, she discovered a pond near her house which frogs inhabited. She learned the frogs would sit with her if she was quiet and moved slowly. She called this her frog church and, being raised Catholic, felt the need at confession to tell the priest that she had another church.

Haupt embraces the Christian mystical tradition. Without mentioning St. Francis by name she refers to the animals of the natural world as brother and sister. In the beginning of the book she lists the medieval Christian mystic Hildegard of Bingen as one of her mentors. And throughout she quotes another medieval woman mystic, Julian of Norwich.

So, yes, in Rooted you will find a lot of nature and spirit with just enough science to tie it all together.

All Saints’ Day

candles for All Saints' DayFor many years on All Saints’ Day I wrote about our beloved beagle-border terrier mix, Tasha. That’s because we brought her home from the shelter on All Saints’ Day in 2005. We lost her in February of last year. She was a big part of our lives and we still miss her.

So today I thought I would write about the music of All Saints’ Day. There are two songs that Episcopalians tend to sing on All Saints’ Day. The first is hymn # 293 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal: “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” One of my former rectors when I lived in Gilroy really loved the song, and my current rector is quite fond of it as well. It speaks of one’s aspiration to live a life like the saints. The three verses end as follows:

they were all of them saints of God—and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.

for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

I can’t relate. The song does not resonate with me. While I strive, as we say in the confession in the Book of Common Prayer, to: “delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name,” I don’t think sainthood is something I am capable of.

I much more closely relate to hymn # 287: “For All the Saints, Who from Their Labors Rest.” I like to give credit to Ralph Vaughan Williams, who composed the music, but it was William Walsham How who wrote the words. Verse four begins:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine

That’s much more my speed. And yes, I do know that the next line reads:

yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.

If you observe All Saints’ Day, may it be to you whatever brings you the most meaning.

an Episcopalian reflects on Yom Kippur

Tonight at sundown the sacred Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur begins. The day always gives this Episcopalian pause to reflect.

I have long had a deep affinity for Judaism. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade my Methodist Church Sunday school class took a field trip to the synagogue in Palm Springs for the festival of Sukkot. I was in the front row for the rabbi’s presentation. After my senior year in high school one of my favorite teachers taught a summer school course in Old Testament history, which I took even though I had graduated. We took a field trip to a synagogue thirty miles from Hemet where I was totally engaged.

Jewish prayer booksAt Pitzer College I became involved with the chaplain’s office, which served all the Claremont Colleges. I was as interested in what was going on with the Jewish community as I was in my own Protestant niche. My senior year at Pitzer and after graduation when I stayed in Claremont, I had a serious crush on a Jewish woman named Julia, with whom I went out once or twice. Sadly, my inept social skills prevented anything from coming of that.

After graduating from Pitzer in 1975 I worked at B. Dalton Bookseller, and in my ambition to become a store manager I moved to Laredo, Texas where I opened the first B. Dalton Bookseller in South Texas. After a year in Laredo I got a store in Oklahoma City to manage. I became involved in the Unitarian Church there, and that is where I met Ruth, a Jewish woman seven years my senior. We developed an intense relationship and after moving in together to a house in Moore, Oklahoma, an Oklahoma City suburb, we decided to get married. We wrote our own vows, but the rabbi at the Reform synagogue in Oklahoma City performed the ceremony in our backyard under a homemade chuppah, the ceremonial canopy under which Jews marry, that Ruth had put together.

We moved to California in 1985 and developed the practice of observing Shabbos on Friday evening. Ruth did the traditional prayer to greet the Sabbath and lit candles, while I read the appointed Torah portion, and we drank an appropriate Israeli wine. When we had Ruth’s two kids over the summer it was an especially meaningful time.

Ruth died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1989. Her graveside service was in Oklahoma City, officiated by the Conservative rabbi of her mother and stepfather’s synagogue. It was Passover, Jewish law stating that if burial can’t happen within twenty-four hours after death it should happen as soon as possible thereafter. The rabbi said, “Because it’s Passover we can’t have a eulogy, but we can teach.” He then delivered a beautiful eulogy. (Ruth had a thing about Passover in life as well as in death. She told me that in her first marriage where they were “more observant than the rabbi,” she had a nervous breakdown one Passover because it all became too much to handle.)

But before we left Oklahoma City, and before Ruth became furious at the rabbi for some disparaging remarks he made in a Shabbat sermon about New Age practitioners (of which Ruth was one), after which she no longer allowed us to attend the Friday evening services that I loved, I had the opportunity to attend one, and only one, Erev Yom Kippur service. It was a cold, blustery evening in Oklahoma City, and the synagogue was full (just like a Christian church on Easter). The Kol Nidre moved me deeply, just as it does today when I watch it via YouTube.

So here I am, an Episcopalian since 1997 in the most Trinitarian of Trinitarian denominations, and yet I continue to question why I need a Son and Holy Spirit to mediate between me and God.

On this Day of Atonement 2022 (5783 in the Jewish calendar), as my eyes fill with tears listening to the Kol Nidre, I say to my Jewish friends:

May your fast be easy.

books on Judaism

The Mind in Another Place

The Mind in Another Place coverThe Mind in Another Place: My Life as a Scholar
Luke Timothy Johnson
Eerdmans (March 22, 2022), 330 pages
Kindle edition $10.67, Amazon hardcover $11.62

I have been familiar with Luke Timothy Johnson for some time. I have listened to at least two of his Great Courses lecture series, and I have long known of his popular books on Christianity. Johnson’s memoir, The Mind in Another Place, adds a whole new dimension to Johnson for me. Far from simply being a popularizer of the New Testament and early Christianity, I discovered he is a scholar who has done significant original work and is an important contributor to the academic world of biblical studies.

Johnson lost both of his parents at a young age and had to move from the Midwest to the South to live with relatives who were not particularly happy to have to raise him and his brother. Fortunately, he was able to attend a Catholic day school. The head of the school saw his potential and arranged for him to go away to seminary for high school. He completed college, was ordained a priest, and earned his PhD under the aegis of the church.

Johnson’s life took an odd twist when he met and fell in love with a woman named Joy, ten years older, who was married and had children. They realized they were meant to be together, and she got a divorce (a very Bad Thing in the eyes of the Catholic church) while he abandoned the priesthood, even though the church refused to release him from his vows. Joy suffered from a chronic autoimmune ailment, which informed much of their life together. She frequently needed medical attention, and the medical bills put a strain on their finances. Nonetheless, the two remained together until Joy’s death in 2017.

The author traces his academic career from Yale, where he held a non tenure-track position, to Indiana University and then on to Emory University, where he remained until retirement. Johnson describes in detail the politics involved in the academic world, and the ulterior motives often embedded in the hiring process. He describes his efforts to build a solid doctoral program out of a mediocre one at Emory, and discusses his heavy workload in directing PhD candidates, preparing classes, grading papers and exams, and doing the requisite committee work. Johnson also gives us a picture of his involvement in the academic controversies of his day. (Johnson, for example, takes the position that the pastoral epistles in the New Testament were written with Paul’s approval, if not actually written by him. The majority scholarly opinion is that they were written by followers of Paul after his death.)

The final section of the book lists the qualities that Johnson believes a scholar should have: both academic and moral. It was somewhat interesting, but he could have ended the book with his retirement and I would have been happy.

The Mind in Another Place offers both a fascinating account of one man’s life in academia and the world of New Testament scholarship. (The title, by the way, refers to his need to focus on academics while assisting his wife with her illness.) For those interested in the academic life and for those interested in New Testament scholarship, this book will be a worthwhile read.

Celebrant’s Flame

Celebrant's Flame coverCelebrant’s Flame: Daniel Berrigan in Memory and Reflection
Bill Wylie-Kellermann
Cascade Books (April 26, 2021), 214 pages
Kindle edition $9.99

Although Cascade Books published Celebrant’s Flame in April 2021, The Christian Century gave it an extensive review in its 2022 Spring Books issue.

I don’t question the importance of keeping Daniel Berrigan’s legacy alive, but I found this to be a rather odd book. The chapters are a strange mixture. Some chapters are the author’s reflections or material Wylie-Kellermann has published previously. Some chapters are letters that Wylie-Kellermann solicited from those who knew Berrigan, asking for their recollections, while others consist of Berrigan’s own words.

It was difficult for me to follow the book as there were no consistent chapter headings to indicate the contents of a given chapter. Sometimes a footnote provided the information and the chapters that contained letters often made the name of the writer clear. Sometimes I had to read into the chapter to figure out that it was Wylie-Kellermann’s own commentary. Because the book draws from multiple sources there is also a lot of repetition; there is no forward-moving narrative.

The book paints a picture of Berrigan’s life as an activist that seemed to me to be unbalanced. For example, Berrigan spent just over eighteen months in prison for his part in destroying draft records. But some sections of the book read as if he were incarcerated for twenty years. After his conviction Berrigan went underground, but Wylie-Kellermann gives no explanation for Berrigan’s motivation for doing so. When agents finally arrested him at the home of peace activist William Stringfellow he surrendered without resistance.

One enjoyable aspect of the book is the picture it gives of members of the religious community involved in social activism. Thomas Merton frequently appears in the book as does Thich Nhat Hanh. Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker communities are important figures in the movement. And, of course, Berrigan’s brother Philip plays a central role.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann is not an objective observer. He was a young seminarian when he met Berrigan, right after Berrigan’s release from prison. He became a Berrigan follower from there on. I assumed that Wylie-Kellermann was Catholic, but it was only when I got to the author credit at the end of the book that I learned he is a Methodist pastor.

Celebrant’s Flame is not page-turning reading, but it represents an important archive documenting Daniel Berrigan’s life as a social activist.

Wild Woman

Wild Woman coverWild Woman: A Footnote, the Desert, and My Quest for an Elusive Saint
Amy Frykholm
Broadleaf Books (August 3, 2021), 217 pages
Kindle edition $13.74, Amazon hardcover $14.10

The Wild Woman of the title is Mary of Egypt, a little-known saint in the Christian church. Amy Frykholm first discovered Mary in a book she stumbled across while verifying the footnotes in a book she was completing. It was only several years later when she heard the name mentioned at a writing conference that she felt drawn to pursue Mary.

Our primary source for Mary of Egypt is a life written in Greek by St. Sophronius, whose life straddled the fourth and fifth centuries AD. He tells the story through the eyes of Zosimas, a monk who encountered her in the Judean desert. As the story goes, Mary left her family in Nubia, in the north of Egypt and traveled to Alexandria, where she lived a life of offering sexual favors. In Alexandria she saw people boarding a ship headed to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Holy Cross. Without money she again offered her favors to gain passage, an offer the ship’s crew accepted. Once in Jerusalem she attempted to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but an invisible force held her back. She encountered the presence of the Virgin Mary, repented of her lifestyle, and was allowed inside the church. From there she crossed the river Jordan where she lived the rest of her life as an ascetic.

Frykholm was so drawn to the life of Mary that she set out on her own journey to visit the places where Mary would have walked. Her mother and her husband sharing different segments of the journey, she visited Nubia, the Monastery of St. Anthony in Egypt, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and the Judean wilderness.

The author describes her visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where she learned that there was supposedly a chapel dedicated to Mary. She was frustrated in her attempts to find the chapel. She was told that it was closed, or that it was only open one day a year. The Copts told her that the Orthodox were responsible for it, and the Orthodox told her that the Copts were responsible. Finally, with the help of a local who had connections with the community around the church, the Orthodox archbishop found the key and let her in. She was disappointed that there was little associated with Mary there.

Frykholm then crossed the Jordan and visited an archaeological site that had an association with Mary, a place that was once a hostel for pilgrims. From there she made a trek into the Judean wilderness to understand the terrain in which Mary supposedly lived. She saw a dragonfly chrysalis in which she felt the essence of Mary.

Interweaved with her own story, Frykholm writes about her best friend Ali, an Episcopal priest, and Ali’s struggle with cancer. Ali parallels her quest with Frykholm’s.

The author was so engaged with the story of Mary that she asked her father, a scholar of the Greek language, to help her learn Greek, which he did via Skype. The two of them then created an English translation of Sophronius’s work, which appears as an appendix to Wild Woman.

Frykholm’s own journey is every bit as engaging as the life of Mary. She continues the sojourn in an eight-episode podcast for The Christian Century called In Search Of. She interviews some of the people she mentions in the book, and others who have helped her with her mission to understand Mary of Egypt.

I had never heard of Mary of Egypt until I learned of Frykholm’s book, but as it happens Mary appears in the 2018 edition of the Episcopal volume Lesser Feasts and Fasts. You’ll find her on April 3, with her name in brackets, meaning that she’s there for trial use.

I am grateful to Frykholm and to Mary of Egypt for enriching my own spiritual journey.

Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul

Sacred Earth Sacred Soul coverSacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World
J. Philip Newell
HarperOne (July 6, 2021), 285 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $21.28

I can’t think of anyone better qualified to write about Celtic spirituality than J. Philip Newell. He was, after all, once the director of the retreat center on Iona, and continued (in pre-pandemic times at least) to lead pilgrimages there. Newell does an impressive job of discussing several individuals who were instrumental in furthering the cause of Celtic Christianity.

The author begins his survey with Pelagius, who was a contemporary of St. Augustine. Pelagius believed that human nature was not inherently sinful. He also believed in teaching women. For this and other (in the church’s eyes) heresies, the Roman church condemned him more than once. Newell then discusses St. Brigid. Brigid, of course, has pagan routes. Once source said that she was a Druidess. The Celtic Church, however, heartily embraced her.

Newell goes on to discuss John Scotus Eriugena, who lived in the ninth century. Eriugena saw the sacred in all the natural world. The author then gives a treatment of the life of Alexander John Scott, a Scottish minister of the nineteenth century. Scott’s teachings got him into trouble and very little of his writing has come down to us. Newell, however, believed that Scott’s teachings were important and chose to write his doctoral dissertation about him. While his advisers were dubious Newell was able to resurrect enough source material from contemporary sources to resurrect his legacy.

The author discusses both John Muir and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Muir, the son of a Calvinist preacher, had a spiritual side we rarely hear about. Teilhard believed the divine existed in the material. I had often seen him referred to as a paleontologist, but Newell states that the church sent him into the field because of his writing. (Other sources, perhaps closer to Teilhard, say his paleontological work influenced his thought.) The Catholic Church banned his writing, but he signed all of his books over to his literary assistant who was able to publish them after his death. Newell also writes about George MacLeod, who was responsible for the modern incarnation of Iona as a retreat center. Clearly Newell has a great fondness for MacLeod. Finally, Newell devotes a chapter to the poet Kenneth White, who had a Celtic mentality and wrote poems about the sacred journey.

Newell devotes a chapter to the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Celtic poems and songs. A man named Alexander Carmichael, who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gets credit for compiling many of these. These pieces were originally written in Gaelic, and Newell writes that the Gaelic spoken in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland is related to Sanskrit. He says that one can find in these works the same sense of the sacred found in Sanskrit poetry.

Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul is an excellent introduction to or review of Celtic Christianity.

Wholehearted Faith

Wholehearted Faith coverWholehearted Faith
Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
HarperOne (November 2, 2021), 229 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $22.99

I was unsure whether I wanted to read Wholehearted Faith, Rachel Held Evans’s final book. Evans died in 2019 at the age of thirty-seven due to complications from a strange infection. She left a body of writing on her computer that she intended to develop into another book. Her husband gave her frequent collaborator, Jeff Chu, access to those writings and Chu formed them into the book that was published as Wholehearted Faith. After listening to Krista Tippett’s interview with Chu on her radio program and podcast On Being I knew I needed to read the book.

I knew of Rachel during her lifetime, but I regret that I never read any of her work while she was still alive. In December I listened to the audiobook version of Searching for Sunday, which she read herself. Although we come from very different backgrounds, in reading that book I shared with her the quest to discover what, exactly, my relationship is with the church. It is a complicated and nuanced question.

Evans grew up in an evangelical home. Her father was involved in Christian education and the family attended a conservative evangelical church. As a child she was passionate about her own beliefs and made herself into the best evangelical she could be. She won the Best Christian Attitude award in her parochial school four years running, a streak that was only broken when her family moved and put her in public school. At her baptism by immersion as a teenager her primary concern was that the white baptismal gown clinging to her maturing body might lead a boy in the congregation to have impure thoughts.

As an adult she began to be bothered by the prejudice and intolerance in her evangelical tradition. She was unhappy with the secondary role such churches gave to women and their condemnation of LGBTQ+ individuals and those with other alternative lifestyles. She came to believe that it was all right to doubt and to debate and discuss the Bible.

She starts the first chapter with a series of paragraphs that begin, “On the days when I believe…” For example, “On the days when I believe, I feel enfolded in a story so much greater than my own. It’s a story that knits together a thousand generations of saints.” After those positive and joyful paragraphs she writes, “And then there are the other days.” She goes on to write about how she copes with those other days. Rachel says that when she doesn’t have the words for her own prayers she can return to the ancient prayers in the Christian tradition.

Rachel writes, just as I have experienced, “Early on I sensed a profound disconnect between what I was supposed to believe and what I actually believed.” She admits, as do I that, “My so-called spiritual journey still continues to meander.”

Although she moved in her own direction as an adult she is not bitter or angry about her parents, her pastors, or her childhood churches. Rather, she states they allowed her to become the person she turned into as an adult. In the face of harsh criticism for the content of her blogs posts and her tweets she developed a mantra of “Thick skin, tender heart.” Rachel writes about people with other lifestyles and states, “I thought God wanted to use me to show queer people how to be straight. Instead, God empowered queer people to show me how to be a better Christian.”

Jeff Chu includes a passage in which Rachel writes about how she and her husband were building a new house. She says that like in her old house her study would be in the basement, but that, unlike the old house, the new study wouldn’t have 1970s wood paneling and would have windows out of which she could watch her children playing in the back yard. That she never got to experience that house and her new study brought a tear to my eye.

Near the end of the book Rachel riffs on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” She provides several iterations starting with that phrase including this one: “For God so loved the world that God empowered us to love even our enemies, even the worst person on Twitter, even those who seem incapable of love themselves.”

Damn. That’s hard. It’s true; I know it is. But I struggle with that more than nearly any other aspect of Christianity. I’m supposed to love the guy with the orange hair who incited the insurrection at the Capitol building? Really? But Rachel does not shirk from laying out the hard stuff for her readers.

It’s a huge loss that we no longer have Rachel Held Evans with us. I am grateful to Jeff Chu for giving us one last book from her.

The Difficult Words of Jesus

Difficult Words of Jesus coverThe Difficult Words of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to His Most Perplexing Teachings
Amy-Jill Levine
Abingdon Press (August 3, 2021), 176 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $14.53

I am very familiar with the work of Amy-Jill Levine. I have listened to her lectures in the Great Courses and I have read her book The Bible With and Without Jesus. Levine offers an interesting viewpoint. She is an observant Jew who is a professor of New Testament studies. From her Jewish background she takes the perspective that the Bible should be interpreted and debated, as the Jewish Talmud exemplifies.

Levine does not stand by as an objective scholar. She inserts herself into the conversation. In discussing Jesus’s statement that no one can follow him unless he hates his mother and father, she states, “My first thought is to reject the entire Gospel. I’m not hating my parents. I’m not hating life. Not me. No way.” She goes on to say that this commandment cannot be taken literally, especially considering that Jesus tells his disciples that they must obey the Torah, including the commandment to honor your father and mother. She suggests that the statement really takes the perspective of those left behind: “My son must really hate me to have done that.”

The author is not afraid to engage in debate. She tells how she wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Luke with a colleague. Levine’s position is that Luke was not progressive on women’s issues. For example, in the parallel stories of Anna and Simeon only Simeon speaks. But she says her colleague believes Luke has Jesus promoting an active role for women in his communities.

Levine avoids taking the easy way out on tricky passages. Regarding the statement of Jesus that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, she refers to the theory that there was a small gate in the city wall where you had to unpack your camel in order to get it through. She states, “There is no such gate.” Similarly, she writes, “Jesus, like Paul, presumed that slaves were a normal part of life.”

The author differs from mainline scholarship on some points. She suggests Luke was written about 90 CE, later than most scholars believe. She also believes that Matthew drew from Luke, where the standard belief is that both Matthew and Luke drew from a common “Q” source. She writes, “I am also finding it increasingly likely that the Book of Revelation was written before the Gospels,” where the accepted belief is that it is a product of the late 90s.

Levine concludes, “We can work together. Since we find common history in the first century, or what is called Second Temple Judaism, we can learn together and interpret together.”

I’m more than happy to learn and interpret with Amy-Jill Levine.

Searching for Sunday

Searching for Sunday coverSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Rachel Held Evans
read by the author
Thomas Nelson, April 21, 2015
$20.96 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I had long known of Rachel Held Evans when I read of her hospitalization in 2019 with a strange infection, and was, like so many others, saddened by her subsequent death at a time when we needed her wisdom and insight. I had, however, not read any of her work.

I was interested, therefore, to learn of the posthumous publication of a new book entitled Wholehearted Faith. Her husband discovered she left behind extensive notes and unfinished writing on her computer, so he called on her writing collaborator, Jeff Chu, to craft what was there into one final book. When looking at her books, however, I was attracted by an earlier work of hers, Searching for Sunday. She writes about her own spiritual path; it seemed to me to have parallels to my own.

She divides the book into seven sections, corresponding to the seven sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick, and marriage. (The Episcopal Church considers communion and marriage to be sacraments, while it calls the remainder sacramental rites.) Within each section she writes both about her spiritual path and her reflections on church and society. A couple of the chapters amount to her own liturgical litanies.

She writes about growing up at the evangelical Grace Bible Church in Tennessee and being baptized there as a teenager. The pastor at Grace later presided Rachel and her husband’s wedding, and they attended the church until leaving when the doctrine there became incompatible with their own beliefs. The members of their church and others in their small town made this a topic of conversation. When someone emailed Rachel telling her she had heard that Rachel had become a Buddhist, Rachel responded, “I’m not disciplined enough to be a Buddhist!”

She and her husband did some halfhearted church seeking, but she admits that on many Sundays they ended up television binge-watching. When the former youth pastor at Grace decided to form a mission church in Dayton Rachel and her husband joined in. The mission didn’t last, and after its closure she and her husband didn’t spend a lot of time in church search. Rachel’s weekends were busy meeting with church groups and attending conferences resulting from the popularity of her first two books. (I’m sorry to say that her California hosts could not convince her of the sacred nature of the In-n-Out burger.) She writes about a stay at a monastic retreat house, where the guestmaster was completely accepting and her lunch table-mate was taken aback that Rachel had doubts (and that she wasn’t Catholic). Ultimately, Rachel and her husband found an Episcopal church a half hour away from their home which they attended semi-regularly.

It was delightful listening to Rachel tell her story in her light Tennessee accent. She makes you think she is the kind of person with whom you would like to have a long after-dinner conversation. Not that everything is upbeat and pleasant about the church for Rachel. She suggests that the church should be a place where a person feels safe but not necessarily comfortable.

It is a tragedy that Rachel Held Evans is no longer with us, but if you have ever had doubts about your own spiritual path get the audiobook and listen to Rachel’s comforting voice. You will feel better about your own struggles.