Addressing The Inner Ring

By

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


15 Comments

  1. Jeanine Joyner

    @joymama

    Shige, you offer such insight and wisdom that I pray will resonate throughout the community. You and I have spoken of this, but for the sake of sharing I will say that I am doing my part to bring dear friends from my church into the Rabbit Room community by offering a writing small group to help build confidence in those who long to write but aren’t sure where to begin. (Once word got out about the possibility they are coming out of the woodwork! So exciting!) We are also forming the small beginnings of what we hope will become a mini-moot showcasing the unity our very racially diverse church enjoys and how God has brought us together to create a beautiful work of art. Someone once told me, “We are the part longing for the whole.” Only in true, Christ-centered community, will we ever be satisfied. It is certainly difficult to achieve, but it is no less a worthy and high calling to which we aspire and one I believe we can attain.

  2. Elizabeth

    Is there, or could there be, a list or place where “fellow Rabbits”, as you called us, who are geographically close could find one another?

  3. meredith mcdaniel

    I appreciate how this breathes abundance versus scarcity in community + creating. Thank you! I will continue to cultivate this heartbeat in our community locally in Davidson, NC.

  4. Tyler

    @tyrogness

    What a wonderful reminder! Thanks, Shige, for sharing. I am new to The Rabbit Toom. Similar to Elizabeth’s response to your question, what is the best way for me to find “fellow Rabbits” near me? I look forward to connecting with this community online, but finding Rabbits that I could meet face to face with would be even better!

  5. Ashley Lind

    @alind

    Thank you, Shige, for sharing this—it was so well said! I certainly resonate with that longing for the “inner circle” as well as the occasional thought, “If only I lived closer to Nashville.” At the same time, I realize that God has planted me where he has in the Pacific Northwest for a reason, and more than that, he has given me a real love for the place and the people where I am. I have found that there are a surprising number of “rabbits” out here. The challenge is just finding each other and carving out time to meet up (everyday life can make this so hard!). I would echo what was already said about thinking it would be nice to have some way of finding other rabbits near me more easily. Right now, I just keep my eyes peeled for comments on Chinwag that mention someone living out here.
    Along with the need to develop community locally, I think it would also be nice to connect with people who want to hone the same craft, even in different locations. I know that for myself, it can be a struggle to keep “doing the thing,” even when part of me wants to, without accountability. Deadlines can be wonderful motivators. My thing is writing, so I love the idea of have a group of fellow novice writers who would keep me accountable to writing something—anything!—on a regular basis. But I could see the same thing being helpful for songwriters or visiual artists, too.

  6. Ashley

    It would be great if there were a way for us to find each other and start to form “mini-moots” in our local communities. I know other communities use Facebook for this and have a directory page on their website where local groups can post a link to their Facebook groups. Here’s an example: http://likemotherlikedaughter.org/st-gregory-pockets/

    Could The Rabbit Room facilitate something like this?

    And shout out to any Durham, NC residents who are interested in exploring this idea. Let’s talk!

  7. JCHSpencer

    @jchspencer

    I have a million thoughts on this whole idea, but won’t ramble (too long). I love the final Lewis passage you quoted–about how those magic moments of friendship and a warm, shared feeling of interest and pleasure are, in truth, the Inner Ring we all desire–as much as it’s possible to have here in this life. And I guess that’s part of my comment here–that as much as I’d love to get together with friends and sing or talk about books we enjoy or share writing projects, it’s really not possible for me in this phase of family life. And I think we must accept the longing as a good thing, too. Yes, seek community and enjoy it, but learn to enjoy the longing, too. In those moments of aching for community we are driven to pray and fellowship with God and find our comfort in Him. We are also learning (my husband and I) to share the things we enjoy with our children and create a little community of delight right here at home. And we often host out-of-town guests who are traveling for ministry, and the evenings we have spent with them have turned out to be some of the most memorable times of fellowship, singing, and hilarity.

  8. Kara

    @karajanechase

    A hearty thank you, Shige!
    I am so grateful you brought Lewis’ concept to light here in the Rabbit Room, addressing the possibility that we as Believers view it (RR) in our hearts as an “Inner Ring” (which I have done countless times). In thinking it over for a few days I’ve come up with some questions to consider.
    Will the furtherance of the Kingdom and the effectiveness of our art be measured by the degree to which it values Christ-centerdness? Above art, above story, above song, above self.

    Oh the beauty of His humility! He who didn’t hold up His equality with God in our faces, but humbled himself, a servant, to die. And what have I got? What am I holding up in peoples faces? A few songs?
    Is the lure of the Inner Ring, not the Ring itself, but what the it can offer me? What it will make me look like?
    What could Christlike humility do for a body of believers who are tempted to view their art as ego instead of a gift employed in worship? Would we be free at last from our own selves and our insatiable lust to be noticed?
    What would our art look like? Perhaps the glorious, other-worldly, counter-cultural fruit produced by repenting of and dying to self, looking to Christ who has gone before us, His humility leading us on?

    Our Inner Ring has Christ at its center and all our faces are beaming with His glory, as we look to Him, shoulder to shoulder with one another.
    We are satisfied.
    And if we are not, is it because we are not looking to our Center? Are we looking to one another to be satisfied by what they can offer? To our selves for being sufficient to remain in the Inner Ring?

    To answer your question, Shige, about what I am doing to foster this community in my local domain, I must say that I feel the Lord has hemmed me in, so to speak, and so my artistic community consists right now of my my husband and children. And I am grateful still. I don’t know if he’ll ever expand it, and so you can imagine my temptation to long to be a part of an Inner Ring like the RR.

    But we are the church, right? Christ is our Head, our Center. I just need to keep looking to Him and I will be satisfied.
    Everyone else is icing on the cake.
    And our art is glorious.

  9. JCHSpencer

    @jchspencer

    I heartily agree with Kara’s comment! I also wanted to add, in addition to my earlier comment, that sometimes we find ourselves in a holy moment when we are with a lot of people we do not know well at all, and in a place we never really wanted to be. My husband encouraged me to attend a church conference with him in Texas last month–all in Spanish, not my first language, so I was totally outside of my comfort zone. But I wept constantly, singing praises in Spanish and hearing powerful sermons in Spanish–I never would have put myself in that room, never would have desired to go to this conference, so I have thanked God a million times for bringing me together with these few hundred people who are all from a completely different cultural background to focus on the most beautiful Truth of all beautiful truths.

  10. Bailey Gillespie

    I love that The Rabbit Room wants to encourage people to better cultivate life-giving communities. What if we curated a list of moot ideas that people can host from wherever, including any necessary supplies or promotional material — like the recent HymnMoot? We could publish the list as a blog post and maybe pin it to the top of the Chinwag facebook page? This kind of event allows for independence and individual creativity, but it’s also connected to a greater community. Similarly, I love that the Every Moment Holy website allows you to purchase and print individual liturgies to use at church services and events. And of course AP’s “It He Worthy,” being a call and response song, is a beautiful addition to a concert or service. I’m sure people would love more of this type of interactive art that draws people together and encourages collaboration.

    Back home in California, I experimented with community building for a number of years, but nothing quite took off. It was only back in September that I finally recognized it starting to bloom. However, this was around the time when I decided to move to Tennessee because I believed God wanted to remove me for a time so he could heal and teach me things I couldn’t access back home. So, I ventured out with the hope of growing spiritually and artistically. Even though I relocated to Nashville, I’m fairly confident that I’ll be returning home to California to help plant what I’ve discovered while away.

  11. Natalie Pace

    Before I ever knew the Rabbit Room existed, I was part of (grew up in) a Christ-centered community that actively fostered creativity and various art forms. Dance, theater, music, writing… and various off-shoots of that involving photography, drawing/painting, filmmaking, etc. None of this was high-profile. Most of us were amateurs or enthusiasts (and many of us very young ones, at that). It started when a young lady, at the age of 15, directed a “canned” musical about the story of Esther. A year later, she started teaching about 10 of her peers and younger friends ballet in a church fellowship hall. Over the next 6-8 years, this developed into a large community of families involved in regular theater and dance productions (some had cast/crew of about 100!) who shared a similar heart, values, and love of worshipping God through these art forms. About 5 years ago, the dance and theater ministry/company at the heart of it all ended, due to many of the leaders getting married or moving away to college. (Yes, most of the leaders were in high school. Our parents were incredibly supportive and awesome.) At that point, lacking the structure that had defined the community so far, several of the families created a new structure… a family Bible study that meets every other week, with various gatherings and retreats at the beach, lake, or mountains. The families in this group belong to several different churches, yet worship and grow together in this context. And this is a beautiful thing.
    I was one of the young “leaders” who graduated high school and went away to college for four years. Now I’m back, in a weird in-between season, neither a “kid” nor a parent, and the structure of the community I grew up in is no longer based around the arts, although many people within it have creative passions and skills. Part of me misses what was before. But I know that it’s futile to look backwards like that. I’m not sure what to do in the meantime… I don’t know how long I’ll be in this place with these people. And I’ve totally had the thought, “if only I lived closer to Nashville.” This article has made me consider that I have a responsibility to foster community and the arts where I am now, rather than wishing I was somewhere else. But it’s hard to invest in a place when you don’t know if you’ll be there for very much longer. I share this, I guess, to give an example of what one “arts community” grew into. And to show how small beginnings can turn into something lasting and significant. But also because, on the other side of it, I’m finding myself searching for an Inner Ring again.

  12. Natalie N Pace

    @4-narnia-and-the-north

    Before I ever knew the Rabbit Room existed, I was part of (grew up in) a Christ-centered community that actively fostered creativity and various art forms. Dance, theater, music, writing… and various off-shoots of that involving photography, drawing/painting, filmmaking, etc. None of this was high-profile. Most of us were amateurs or enthusiasts (and many of us very young ones, at that). It started when a young lady, at the age of 15, directed a “canned” musical about the story of Esther. A year later, she started teaching about 10 of her peers and younger friends ballet in a church fellowship hall. Over the next 6-8 years, this developed into a large community of families involved in regular theater and dance productions (some had cast/crew of about 100!) who shared a similar heart, values, and love of worshipping God through these art forms. About 5 years ago, the dance and theater ministry/company at the heart of it all ended, due to many of the leaders getting married or moving away to college. (Yes, most of the leaders were in high school. Our parents were incredibly supportive and awesome.) At that point, lacking the structure that had defined the community so far, several of the families created a new structure… a family Bible study that meets every other week, with various gatherings and retreats at the beach, lake, or mountains. The families in this group belong to several different churches, yet worship and grow together in this context. And this is a beautiful thing.
    I was one of the young “leaders” who graduated high school and went away to college for four years. Now I’m back, in a weird in-between season, neither a “kid” nor a parent, and the structure of the community I grew up in is no longer based around the arts, although many people within it have creative passions and skills. Part of me misses what was before. But I know that it’s futile to look backwards like that. I’m not sure what to do in the meantime… I don’t know how long I’ll be in this place with these people. And I’ve totally had the thought, “if only I lived closer to Nashville.” This article has made me consider that I have a responsibility to foster community and the arts where I am now, rather than wishing I was somewhere else. But it’s hard to invest in a place when you don’t know if you’ll be there for very much longer. (Early 20s is a season of lots of unknowns and change.) I share this, I guess, to give an example of what one “arts community” grew into. And to show how small beginnings can turn into something lasting and significant. But also because, on the other side of it, I’m finding myself searching for an Inner Ring again.

  13. Natalie N Pace

    @4-narnia-and-the-north

    Before I ever knew the Rabbit Room existed, I was part of (grew up in) a Christ-centered community that actively fostered creativity and various art forms. Dance, theater, music, writing… and various off-shoots of that involving photography, drawing/painting, filmmaking, etc. None of this was high-profile. Most of us were amateurs or enthusiasts (and many of us very young ones, at that). It started when a young lady, at the age of 15, directed a “canned” musical about the story of Esther. A year later, she started teaching about 10 of her peers and younger friends ballet in a church fellowship hall. Over the next 6-8 years, this developed into a large community of families involved in regular theater and dance productions (some had cast/crew of about 100!) who shared a similar heart, values, and love of worshipping God through these art forms. About 5 years ago, the dance and theater ministry/company at the heart of it all ended, due to many of the leaders getting married or moving away to college. (Yes, most of the leaders were in high school. Our parents were incredibly supportive and awesome.) At that point, lacking the structure that had defined the community so far, several of the families created a new structure… a family Bible study that meets every other week, with various gatherings and retreats at the beach, lake, or mountains. The families in this group belong to several different churches, yet worship and grow together in this context. And this is a beautiful thing.
    I was one of the young “leaders” who graduated high school and went away to college for four years. Now I’m back, in a weird in-between season, neither a “kid” nor a parent, and the structure of the community I grew up in is no longer based around the arts, although many people within it have creative passions and skills. Part of me misses what was before. But I know that it’s futile to look backwards like that. I’m not sure what to do in the meantime… I don’t know how long I’ll be in this place with these people. And I’ve totally had the thought, “if only I lived closer to Nashville.” This article has made me consider that I have a responsibility to foster community and the arts where I am now, rather than wishing I was somewhere else. But it’s hard to invest in a place when you don’t know if you’ll be there for very much longer. (Early 20s are a time of lots of unknowns and change.) I share this, I guess, to give an example of what one “arts community” grew into. And to show how small beginnings can turn into something lasting and significant. But also because, on the other side of it, I’m finding myself searching for an Inner Ring again.

  14. Peter Brunone

    @peterbrunone

    It took me several years of Hutchmoots to learn this. From “if we only lived closer” to feeling like I had to be involved in everything for fear of missing out (and missing the beauty of the moment in front of me), to pining for the Nashville mountaintop at the expense of my local church family, I had a lot of things to get straight.
    What a poignant reminder to return to what matters. Thanks for writing it all down.

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