I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely ... Read More
The longing for community is a deep and personal one. Each of us comes to the subject bearing the burden of our own experiences and the weight of our own wounds. If there’s a way to encapsulate all that complexity with tact, grace, and truth, I’d love to find it, but for now, I’d simply like to have a conversation.
So, let’s talk about “the Inner Ring.”
There’s a scene in A. S. “Pete” Peterson’s play Frankenstein in which The Monster lives in the shadows outside a simple, country home. He hovers just beyond the ring of warmth and love that emanates from the family within, longing to join them. He laments the depth of his loneliness and yearns to belong.
This was the point where the play had me hooked. Thankfully, I’ve never been run out of town by an angry mob (though there’s still time). I have, however, known the silent ache of isolation. Who among us doesn’t yearn for belonging? Who hasn’t at some point felt like an outsider, trapped in the cold while that warmth glows far off—or worse, perpetually just beyond our fingertips? Frankenstein reminded me that I’m not alone in longing for a sense of community and connection that I fear I may never find.
In a lecture to the students of Kings College, C. S. Lewis refers to this desire as “the quest of the Inner Ring” and calls it “one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action.” I’m not surprised, then, to have found it in Frankenstein’s Monster, just as I’ve found it in myself, and I’m not surprised to find it circling through conversations around the Rabbit Room.
It’s written in emails, spoken at shows, and pasted across social media. Sometimes it hides in statements like, “if only I lived closer to Nashville” or “I wish I could just be best friends with such-and-such an artist.” It can lurk in the laments of those leaving Hutchmoot or of those who couldn’t attend. I even hear it whispered in my own heart. There is a sense of some secret, special group of Rabbit Room insiders out there sitting by fires, strumming guitars, (perhaps even smoking pipes—the miscreants) and having deep, meaningful conversations—without us. And if only we were in just the right place or knew just the right people, we could also be part of it and at last be contented.
This is the illusion of the Inner Ring. We believe there’s a sanctum from which we’re excluded, and in which we might find the connection and validation we crave. The problem is, it isn’t real. Like Tantalus beneath the fruit tree, the quest for the Inner Ring leaves us forever straining and never fulfilled. Lewis points out that, even in gaining the access we desire, we would find ourselves disappointed. Inside every perceived Inner Ring, we discover only the flawed, ordinary (and extraordinary) people who already surround us. We’re faced with our same, imperfect selves, called and validated by God.
There’s power in recognizing an illusion for what it is. It leaves us open to discover something more real and lasting, and this is where the Rabbit Room wants to come in.
How have you found success in intentionally nurturing community where you are? How can the Rabbit Room better provide opportunities and resources to build your communities?Shigé Clark
The Rabbit Room’s mission is to foster Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art. If you’re anything like me, you may get so focused on the “music, story, and art” portion that the other half can fade to a buzz in the background, but the two sides are complementary. The practice of making and appreciating great art draws people into community, and within such a community, creativity thrives. The Rabbit Room is not here to exclude, but to unite: to help kingdom-minded people come together around the common goal of creation. We want to debunk the myth that there is some ethereal “Rabbit Room Community” out there that only a select few get to be a part of, or that the Rabbit Room can be found in, or constrained to, an online space. Rather, as the mission states, we want to foster Rabbit Room communities, wherever people love God, music, art, and story.
Recently, it seems more conversations have cropped up that are geared toward intentional engagement in personal community. Groups are gathering to sing hymns, reaching out to find fellow Rabbits in their areas, getting together to study classic theologians, inviting others to join for a personal meet-up at a cafe. Mini-Moots abound! What a beautiful and encouraging trend to see. This, after all, is what the Rabbit Room is about.
So, here’s where this becomes a conversation rather than a soliloquy. We want to hear from you. How have you found success in intentionally nurturing community where you are? How can the Rabbit Room better provide opportunities and resources to build your communities?
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Lewis’s Inner Ring lecture (which you should absolutely check out, by the way—it’s a wondrous read):
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.
Inner Rings may be illusory, but community is real, and community can be difficult. Let’s figure out how we can work together to develop and support Rabbit Room communities wherever they appear and wherever they are needed.
Artwork Credit: Sky Fire by Georgiana Romanovna