Rachel Held Evans has committed one year of her life to following the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.
On her blog, Evans encourages readers to think of the project as “John Piper meets Martha Stewart meets Julie & Julia meets A Year of Living Biblically.”
Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, is now nine months into her project.
When asked how her view of biblical womanhood has changed so far, she said, “I had long questioned the notion that the Bible presents one uniform prescription for how to be a woman, and these past nine months of research and experimentation have confirmed the fact that the whole concept of ‘biblical womanhood’ can be terribly misleading.
“After all, technically speaking it is ‘biblical’ for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, ‘biblical’ for her to be forced to marry her rapist and ‘biblical’ for her to be one of many wives!”
As she interviewed women who practice various elements of “biblical womanhood”-an Orthodox Jew, an Amish woman, a polygamist, a Quiverfull wife, etc.-she said she has grown less judgmental of how other women interpret and apply the Bible to their lives.
“I often disagree,” she remarked, “but I sense that just like me, they are doing the best that they can to honor God with their decisions. Putting faces and names to foreign ideologies always changes one’s view of things.”
Some aspects of Evans’ view of biblical womanhood have become stronger than before the project. She is more convinced than ever that behind every claim to a biblical lifestyle or ideology lies a complex set of assumptions regarding interpretation and application, and that if we can admit that up front, we can have more productive conversations about the role of women in the church.
“We all ‘pick and choose,’” she noted. “We all project. We all see through a glass darkly. My goal is to help women reach this common ground so that we can start cutting ourselves and one another some slack.”
Her most eye-opening experience has been trying to turn Proverbs 31 into a to-do list and finding out it was impossible.
She “nearly had a nervous breakdown,” Evans told The Christian Post with a laugh. Much of this had to do with the fact that she had never used a sewing machine in her life, and the Proverbs 31 woman is an excellent seamstress. Evans realized shortly into this endeavor that interpreting an ancient acrostic poem literally is not always the best idea.
Evans shared some other “bizarre” situations she has managed to survive: camping in the backyard during “my time of impurity, observing the Levitical purity laws that forbid me from touching my husband for twelve days out of the month, covering my head when I pray, caring for a computerized baby for a weekend, growing out my hair, and learning to cook, clean and sew.”
Her most enjoyable experiences have been keeping up with the Jewish holidays. “We hosted a Passover Seder and my matzo toffee was a huge success!” she shared. “Joining in ancient traditions has a way of making you feel connected to the past and to a larger community.”
Evans also loved researching those women from Scripture who defy what many people perceive to be the traits of a “biblical woman:” Deborah, Huldah, Jael, Miriam, Ruth, Vashti, Sarah, Lydia, Junia, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and others.
“You can’t shove them into a mold,” she said of the women.
When asked what she has learned about being a woman during the project, she stated that this project has forced her to confront a lot of things she had been trying to avoid for years: “my fear of motherhood, doubts about God, questions about the Bible, concerns about losing my identity in my husband or children or faith.”
She particularly has learned a lot about “boldly jumping down those rabbit holes and searching for light in the darkness.”
“I’ve come to believe that a woman only ‘loses herself’ when she stops looking. Our circumstances, relationships and faith will inevitably shape us, but we can be deliberate about how they do.”
Any project of such intensity leads to some self-discoveries. That has happened to Evans, too.
“I’ve learned that I enjoy cooking, hate sewing, love contemplative prayer, could read biblical commentaries for hours, am conflicted about motherhood, like wearing peasant skirts and really miss my short hair.”
Nine months of “biblical living” has brought new awareness of the Bible to Evans.
“I’ve learned that some of the darkest, most troubling passages of Scripture reveal atrocities committed against women, but that some of the most revolutionary, hope-filled actions of God happened in their presence. I have also learned that a lot of folks who claim to live ‘biblical’ lifestyles are unaware of what the Bible actually says!”
For male readers, she promises that she only talks about her period in one chapter. For female readers, she asks them to be kinder to themselves and one another as they grow into women of faith together because “none of us is actually practicing ‘biblical womanhood.’”
Evans’ biblical womanhood project is somewhat similar to what A. J. Jacobs did in The Year of Living Biblically, but Evans is not doing it only from the perspective of a woman, but with the eyes of a Christian. Thomas Nelson will publish her book about the project in 2012.