A Year of Biblical Womanhood: Rachel Held Evans’ Secrets Divulged

This evening my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, is hosting author Rachel Held Evans, one of the foremost thinkers and writers in evangelical circles today who has appeared on Oprah and The View and spotlighted by NPR, the BBC and The Washington Post. Her spell-binding book will stir you to see women, biblical and otherwise, in a new light.

If your comfort zone is just too cozy to leave right now, you can read about a gutsy woman who ditched her comfy life-style, visiting “an Amish schoolhouse in Gap, Pennsylvania; a pig farm in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama.” Admitting to being domestically challenged, she took up knitting and baking even working her way through the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.

Rachel Held Evans characterizes herself as a liberated woman, but for one year she became an Old Testament woman who admits she “spent an afternoon on my rooftop, adopted a computer-baby, camped out in my front yard during my period,” and left eight pounds of dough to rise in my bathroom.”

via Rachel Held Evans' website
via website of Rachel Held Evans

Intrigued by many of her friends who abandoned their careers for traditional gender roles in the home, “Evans decided to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year,” sometimes pushing them to their literal extreme. The result is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” a New York Times best-seller.

Each chapter records a month in which Evans focuses on a biblical virtue: October – gentleness, November – Domesticity, and so on.There is nothing starchy about her subtitles with chapters like February/Beauty “My Breasts are Like Towers” and March/Modesty “Hula-Hooping with the Amish,” who she mentions don’t wear white for their weddings because it’s worldly and don’t marry in June because that’s worldly too! 

The end of each chapter “month” features a character study of women like Eve or Mary Magdalene, but includes more obscure women like Junia, the Apostle or Huldah, the Prophet. That’s where Evans’ astute scholarship is most evident. With two unanswered questions, author Evans plunges into astonishing biblical research as her 8 pages of documentation verify: What does God truly expect of women? Is there a prescription for biblical womanhood? She admits:

I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives—a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. I scoured the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I could find about mothers, daughters widows, wives, concubines, queens, prophetesses, and prostitutes.

But Rachel had divine help along her pathway: Ahava, an orthodox Jew she met online who advised Rachel on all things Jewish. Guys in the food aisles at a Wal-Mart in East Tennessee who helped her search for Kosher ingredients for her Seder celebration. And her ever-accommodating husband Dan, whom she praises with a home-made sign at the city gates of Dayton, Tennessee, near where they live.

Seder table setting courtesy Wikipedia
Seder table setting courtesy Wikipedia images

Evans’ book is definitely a page-turner. I read her 310-page book in under 3 days. As one reviewer exclaims; “An unexpected, laugh-out-loud then turn the page and tear up, enjoyable and poignant read.” Another agrees that Rachel Evans tackles “the most sacred cows, willing to ask the trickiest questions” and observing fresh perspectives. For example, she reminds readers that it took the defiance of two queens to save the Jews—Esther by appearing before the king, Vashti by refusing to.”

Her website: http://www.rachelheldevans.com

Eschewing the traditional interpretation of Proverbs 31 that yokes most women with unreachable goals, Evans strives instead to be more like the Hebrew Eschet chayil, woman of valor, at its core a blessing to invoke, not a title to be earned.            “plain and fancy” observation

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What do you think of author Evans’ experiment? Its outcomes?

Your thoughts added to mine can launch an animated conversation!


Mom: 3 Vignettes


MomasChild    Mom as a Child            MomJiving

                 Mom Jiving to iPod Music

My mother never had a bucket list, and if she had one, jiving to “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad” on my iPod would not have been on it. My mother grew up on a dairy farm near Lititz, Pennsylvania, the oldest daughter in a family of six. Her own mother, Grandma Sadie Landis Metzler, died when she was nine, and because she was needed at home, her own education ended with the eighth grade. What intellectual curiosity I have comes from my Dad’s side, but I thank my mother for constant demonstrations of the social graces, including cooking and entertaining. She equates food with love of friends and family around her mahogany Duncan Phyfe table but that’s another story. These stories show below give a glimpse of her personality.

1990s Hands Ruth in kitchen_small-filtered-1  Mom enjoying home-made soup.

Mom’s Other Men

Growing up, I noticed my Mother had a lot of men in her life. None of these men competed with Daddy though, and there was no jealousy between them that I could detect. She didn’t have a driver’s license, but life came to her door in the olden days.  The Milkman aka Hertzler’s Dairy appeared twice a week and deposited 2 quarts of milk in an insulated metal can with a hinged top. The Stroehmann’s Bread Man walked into the house with his baked goods on a flat tray strapped about his neck: bread, doughnuts, cookies, other sweets. Once a week, a step-van swung by with the Green Grocer huckstering produce of every description: lettuce, beans, other fresh vegetables. To keep it all chilled, the Ice Man came and put a block of ice on top of the refrigerator to cool the food stored below like an ice chest. Every so often the Stanley Man, like a Fuller Brush Man, delivers brushes, cleaning fluids, plastic containers, and shoe strings. The Scissors Man came too with tools to sharpen knives and scissors. Two of Mom’s helpers cruised by in their trucks. For example, Groff’s Meat Market truck came by each week and stopped at the Longenecker house, but only if Mom remembered to put the cardboard card spelling out “Groff Meats” in the living room window. Also, the Rag Man announced his arrival with a sing-song “Rags, old bags” litany as he cruised down Anchor Road with his window down. When Mom opened the door, he took her left-overs, stuffing cloth remnants from Mom’s sewing projects, along with her old wash rags, into his trunk. She had it good!

My Mother – All Things Even

My Mother says she clipped red, pink, and white peonies and set them out on the porch for Memorial Day pickings. Today she has called a neighbor and invited her to come over and take some to share with the other family in the duplex across the street, so everyone gets a chance to enjoy the beauty.

That’s my Mom, with everything fair and even. Like the story of “ The Three Bears“ —not too big, not too small, but just right. The spouses of two of her four children have left their mates. That’s one too many. Pearl and Mary Jean and Cecilia have only one of their children divorced–but not two, that’s excessive. Even one’s too much. Why can’t they “forgive and forget? I just don’t see it,” she says.

Then there’s the matter of the walkers at Bosslers Church. Becky and Sister-in-law Ruth each have a walker. That makes two in the church, so Mom walks in with a cane. “Why a cane when you usually use a walker when you leave your house?” I ask. “A walker would certainly give you more stability, maybe even keep you from falling. Besides, you are the oldest one of the lot. You’ll be 95 in July. People would certainly understand.”

“Oh, we can’t have three walkers at the church. Three walkers in the aisle at Bosslers Church? Tsk, tsk, that would be too many. I’ll just use my cane.” Is it pride, is it something else? No, she just wants things to be even.

Sometimes when I call my Mother, our conversation ends with my quoting Jude 24: “Now unto Him Who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, to Him be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and evermore. Amen.” Of course, I mean the verse to be applied literally. She gets the point. Last Christmas, though, the meaning of the verse slapped me in the face, yes, actually!

Please Keep Me from Falling

This Friday morning I have Teddy on his leash.  Teddy is a cute, playful Cocker Spaniel that licks, jumps and snuggles all in the same minute. His parents and brothers are on vacation in PA, so I have volunteered to walk-pee-poop him around the block—well, several blocks.

Here we gooooo—whoooooooosh! We shoot out of the gate full throttle and down the first block, inspecting Christmas decorations, licking interesting morsels here and there. Oh, here I see some fern fronds that would look good in the vase on my kitchen window sill to garnish the pink & white camellias. I twist the stem and pluck it: Left hand, dog leash—right hand, fern frond. We turn the corner; the sun is shining brighter, the dog scampering left and right enjoying the brisk morning air.

My foot hits a concrete abutment on the sidewalk. Now I find myself in a weird posture, one I typically use only in Power-Pump on Mondays and Fridays at the gym with a 5-pound weight: I’m at a 45 degree angle propelled by the uneven pavement, and I’m falling—I mean really faaaaaalll-ing. Like stills in a movie, my body moves forward in jerky, slow motion. For a split second I think I can right myself, but NO, I’m going down for the count with both hands extended, unleashing the pet, my glasses, the frond and all my uprightness. Blood spurts from both knees, my hands are scraped too; I’m really banged up!

My uprightness—there’s a thought. Always longing for a balance in mood, sense of spirituality, level of energy, not being upset. How many times have I quoted verse 24 from Jude to my 94-year-old Mom: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling . . . .”

Indeed, I lost my balance and my dignity for a moment. But, it could have been so much worse: The dog didn’t run off, I am ambulatory despite scrapes on both knees and hands. Where were the angels? My brush with the sidewalk, I could assume, is to remind me that the law of gravity still works and—I am human and therefore subject to its laws. Yet, this time it was ordained that I recover, pick myself up, avoiding a visit to the emergency room with the need for X-rays, a doctor’s diagnosis, splints, or crutches. Who can discern “ Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men”?


You probably have a story about a quirky relative, your mother or someone else. Share it here.

Something else you thought about as you were reading?