DebbiefromMaine, October 22, 2012
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I started reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I had only recently begun reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog and hadn’t followed her posts about her Year of Biblical Womanhood project. The blurb on the back of the cover doesn’t begin to do this book justice. Nor do the summaries explain what going along with Rachel on her one-year journey will do to your perspectives on so many woman’s issues.
The author spends a year trying to live out in practical ways some of the qualities that different people of Judeo-Christian faith have considered essential if one is to be considered a “Biblical Woman.” Each month of her experiment year, Rachel focuses on one of these qualities: Gentleness, Domesticity, Obedience, Valor, Beauty, Modesty, Purity, Fertility, Submission, Justice, Silence and Grace.
For example, for the Month of March she focused on Modesty. Her goals for that month were to 1. Dress modestly, 2. Wear a head covering, 3. Wear only dresses and skirts, 4. Abstain from wearing jewelry, 5. Hang out with the Amish.
Being a strong-willed, independent-thinking Christian woman in a marriage in which she and her husband treat each other as equals, it is quite a jolt from her normal existence to attempt to follow some of what women in the “Biblical Womanhood” movement, the Amish/Mennonite sects, the Orthodox Jews, the “Quiverfull” movement believe and do every day of their lives. Rachel spends time interviewing woman from these groups (and others). She does this in a respectful way, giving the reader insight into the thinking behind lifestyles that many would harshly judge. As she incorporates some of their practices into her own daily life, she shares her frustrations and insights as she makes these lifestyle changes. At the end of each chapter Rachel shares her own conclusions about what the Bible really says about the different “Values for Christian Woman” (the name of a course I actually took in Bible college). To give you a tiny taste, here are some of Rachel’s conclusions at the end of her month of focus on Modesty: “ Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged women to “adorn themselves” with good deeds, why he instructed all Christians, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” and why the valorous woman of Proverbs 31 is praised because she “clothes herself in strength and dignity.” It’s not what we wear, it’s how we wear it. And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently. “ (Rachel Held Evans - page 140 - AYOBW)
After each chapter, Rachel also spotlights a “Woman of Valor.” A woman from the Bible (like Eve, Esther, Ruth, Mary, etc.) who embodies values contemporary women would want to emulate. Another Rachel quote: “ Among the women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs. What makes these women’s stories leap from the page is not the fact that they all conform to some kind of universal ideal, but that, regardless of the culture or context in which they found themselves, they lived their lives with valor. They lived their lives with faith. And as much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of “biblical womanhood,” there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves...” (Rachel Held Evans - page 295 - AYOBW).
Rachel’s honest voice makes you laugh out loud one minute and then you’ll come to tears two pages later. She is a fantastic scholar and researcher (I say this as a Bible College graduate with a Master’s degree in Library Science), but she makes her research so readable you might take for granted the hours she spent and volumes she read before she put pen to paper.
I was so fortunate to be asked to read an advance copy of this book. I’ve passed my half-century mark, and spent years struggling to understand many of the very things that Rachel dealt with during her project year. She was able to put words to what I knew in my heart was true. Thank you, Rachel, for bringing us along on your refreshingly honest, hilarious, touching, insightful journey.