Today is launch day for Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, And Loving The Bible Again.
I was privileged to receive an advanced copy to read and review and have shared my Goodreads review below. While I liked the book itself, I have found the Reading Guide to be of immeasurable encouragement and inspiration in my own spiritual practice. I will be sharing some of my Reading Guide motivated writing and insights here. Just click on the “Inspired” tag at the end of this post or in the Tag Menu above. (Note: The Reading Guide was being offered as a pre-order add-on. Check back here or on Rachel’s site for information on where to order/ find the Reading Guide when it is available.)
I hope some of you will share your own Inspired inspirations in the comments. Links to your own posts would be wonderful!
*See update following original review*
After reading “Searching For Sunday” and meeting Rachel Held Evans at a church retreat where she shared excerpts from “Inspired” and led us through some exercises to help us explore the Bible with new eyes (she refereed to it as “VBS for adults”), I could not wait for the release of the book and was thrilled to be offered the chance to read a preview copy.
At the retreat, Ms. Evans explained and led us in the practices of (or close facsimiles of) Lectio Divina and Ignatian Spiritual Practice… both practices of studying the Bible through creative exploration and contemplation, frequently using writings, re-tellings, paintings, and other artistic interpretations. She even read one of her own such re-tellings (in the form of a short story) from “Inspired.” I was surprised, then, when there was no mention of these practices in the book. There *is* mention of the traditional Jewish practice of midrash – a similar, creative interpretive practice. However, while the book begins with one of these creative re-tellings (a 6-page short story), there is no mention of the practice of midrash until page 22. She spends the rest of this chapter (covering “Origin Stories” of the Bible) explaining the value of midrash and creative, playful exploration of the Bible.
The rest of the book follows this pattern, a creative exploration by the author (a story, screenplay, etc) followed by a more scholarly (but conversationally accessible) chapter exploring the writing genre of the Bible passage that has just been midrashed — but without any guidance of the midrash process. This makes the book feel a bit incongruous despite the strict adherence to the aforementioned pattern. It requires the reader to flip back and forth between various writing styles and genres with no transition. Maybe this was intended by the author (to mimic the various, abutting genres found in the Bible), but this was not made clear or announced in any way and made for slow reading.
I was also hoping for some instruction in how to perform such creative investigations myself. Scripture readings with writing prompts, challenges to use different types of creativity (poetry, short story, letters, sketches, etc), or even just a “now try writing your own short story based on this passage.”
Although there were no instructions for readers to perform their own investigations, the creative writings provided by the author were interesting to read and inspirational in and of themselves. They were an encouragement to me to continue doing such exercises and sharing them with others. I have been doing them in my head for years, but I can now see the value in recording and sharing my exploration and study with others.
It was also encouraging to hear someone express their own questions and doubts that reflect my own and to have them not be afraid of them but reinforce that approaching Scripture with not just my heart and soul but also my MIND is essential to my spiritual growth. In this respect, “Inspired” makes a natural follow-up to “Searching For Sunday.” And I understand why the author of “Searching For Sunday” would prefer to say, “I found a means of approaching the Bible that I have found valuable. Let me share my experience with you,” without dictating a new form of study (with its accompanying “rules”). I just wish that her fear of becoming one of *those* voices telling others how they *must* study and interpret Scripture hadn’t kept her from more actively *guiding* others in their Scriptural explorations.
I was given the opportunity to read the Reading Guide that will be made available to accompany this book. If the introduction to the Reading Guide had been incorporated at the beginning of “Inspired,” it would have explained some of the disjointedness of the text and would have bumped my original rating to at least a 4, maybe a tad higher. It would still be shy of a 5 for some heavy-handedness on political issues (having some is fine, and actually welcome to provide some contextualization, but it went beyond that in my opinion) and because the flipping between creative exploration and more traditional analysis and scholarship interrupts the flow of reading. However, the Reading Guide greatly enhances the main text. I would love to have seen it integrated into the original and (again) it’s introduction included in the original text. (less)