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Merry Christmastide from the Rabbit Room

[Editor’s note: This post was originally written as a letter to the Rabbit Room email list the day after the Winter Solstice, on Tuesday, December 22nd. We share it here both as an offering of closure to the year 2020 and as a first step in the direction of hope for the year ahead.]

Merry Christmas, friends of the Rabbit Room!

I don’t know about you, but I feel an odd sort of numbness as we inch closer to the end of 2020. I think it’s because of the emotional whiplash: first the disbelief, in March, that the virus would really upend the entire world, followed by the dawning realization that things were going to get much worse before they got better; then the shock and grief at all the sickness and loss of life, not to mention the loss of so many people’s livelihoods; then the death of George Floyd and all the deep national wounds it exposed; then the political division that drove a relational wedge between friends and family members. Still, mixed in with all the bad news was the feeling, for some, that pre-COVID life had been moving too fast, and the lockdown provided some real and necessary wake-up calls. We reassessed. We remembered how important human contact is—not least of which was the holy human contact we experience at church. We looked at the world, and our place in it, a little differently. I was fascinated to read that when the country was standing still back in the spring, one of the top Google searches was, “Why are the birds louder?” The birds, of course, weren’t any louder—it was just that the world had gotten quiet enough for people to hear them again. There’s so much grace all around us, and suffering is a sure way to get us to hear its song.

When we started this ministry fifteen or so years ago, we had no idea what it would grow into. Just like writing a song, you have to hold loosely to your own ideas and let the thing become what it wants. Then God can surprise you. Well, I would have been surprised back then if you had told me what the Rabbit Room would look like in 2020. Here’s a quick rundown of what the year’s looked like for us.

  1. Douglas McKelvey basically climbed Mt. Everest with the completion of Every Moment Holy, Vol. II: Death, Grief, and Hope. He started on this book well before he knew how much the world would need it, so it was with a clear sense of providence that he worked to craft more than a hundred liturgies specifically for seasons of death, sickness, grief, and the great hope of the Gospel. He labored for months, working directly with people who have suffered bereavement to hone these liturgies into something pastoral and tender, giving us prayers for all manner of painful situations. I saw the first proof copy of the book a few days ago, and when I merely read the titles of the different prayers to a friend who had lost her father, we both cried. I couldn’t be prouder of Doug, artist Ned Bustard, editor Pete Peterson, and the whole Rabbit Room Press team for tirelessly working to complete this volume. It’ll be available early next year.

  2. With both conviction and sadness we cancelled Hutchmoot and Hutchmoot UK. Those events are in many ways the incarnation of everything we try to do around here, but there was just no way to host a conference in the midst of a pandemic. But because this team is incredible, we offered up something wonderful. Hutchmoot: Homebound was an online experience like no other. For only $20, with the help of an amazing community and staff, we put together over 80 hours of online content that ranged from deeply theological, to artistically profound, to utterly goofy. Thousands of people tuned in, and it went so well that we’re hoping to do it again one of these days.

  3. Early in the lockdown, we realized that people were hungry for ways to stay connected, so we created a weekly roundup of online concerts, lectures, reading groups, and the like, so the Rabbit Room could be your one-stop resource for finding edifying content. One of the many advantages of being a nimble organization is that you can pivot with relative ease to serve the community’s needs. I was so proud of the way the Rabbit Room staff worked to provide connection for so many. Books and music were flying out of the warehouse, because in such a time as 2020, people all over the world were hungry for stories and songs that reminded them of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

  4. Speaking of the good, true, and beautiful, Drew Miller worked to produce not only our daily blog content from many different writers, but also podcast after podcast, like Jonathan Rogers’s The Habit, Pete Peterson’s reading of Fin’s Revolution, The Molehill, Leslie Bustard’s The Square Halo, and more. SO MUCH GOOD STUFF.

  5. 2020 saw the release of Helena Sorenson’s wonderful, soul-stirring novel The Door on Half-Bald Hill, the audio production of Pete Peterson’s Frankenstein, as well as his filmed adaptation of Wendell Berry’s Sonata at Payne Hollow, the audiobook of Jennifer Trafton’s Henry and the Chalk Dragon, and volume one of Every Moment Holy, read by the great Fernando Ortega and Rebecca Reynolds.

  6. We were proud to have our first ever scholar-in-residence, the brilliant Steve Guthrie, who is Belmont University’s professor of Theology, Religion, and the Arts. He wrote a series of posts about a theology of sound, which is utterly fascinating, and he also led an online book group for Let Justice Roll Down, by John Perkins.

  7. Speaking of book groups, Jonathan Rogers, alongside John Cal and Jennifer Trafton, also led an online discussion of Robert Farrar Capon’s towering work, The Supper of the Lamb.

  8. Chris Thiessen curated playlists for Lent, Eastertide, and Advent, as well as “A Literary Playlist,” “Songs that Make Us Smile,” and “A Lament for Justice” to carry us through this year.

  9. After years and years of praying and dreaming, we’ve finally completed North Wind Manor. Jamie Peterson took the lead on designing the place, from the shape of the house to the color of the bathroom light fixtures, and it brings me great pleasure to hear people gasp when they walk into the house. It’s ironic that we created a space for hospitality and connection in a year when nobody’s really allowed to gather, but we trust that the near future will allow for the house to be full of music, laughter, poetry, and the smell of good food. Many thanks to you all for funding a place that will hopefully be a part of Kingdom work for many years to come.

  10. We had tremendous help with shipping from Skye Peterson, Rachel Matar, Elise Vedders, Kirby Waggoner, and a host of volunteers who showed up to help stuff envelopes and tape boxes when we were overwhelmed.

It’s dangerous to make a list like this, because I’ve certainly left a lot out. The crazy thing is, all that stuff happened in a pandemic year, which means there were no Local Shows, no in-person events, no conferences, no traveling on our part. Lockdown meant more work, more opportunity, not less, and the team did it all with such great joy. It’s remarkable to me that all the aforementioned work was done by a staff of just five people, along witha bunch of volunteers at home and abroad.

Just like writing a song, you have to hold loosely to your own ideas and let the thing become what it wants. Then God can surprise you. Well, I would have been surprised back then if you had told me what the Rabbit Room would look like in 2020. Andrew Peterson

I started this email talking about numbness, but the act of writing down all the ways God has provided not just the work but the means to do it, has led me to a feeling of gratitude, satisfaction, and the pleasure of seeing a field well-tended. So I want to thank the Rabbit Room team, the many donors and members, the patrons who are supporting not just our work but the work of the many artists, authors, and poets whose work we support. And I thank God, for holding all things together, for redeeming us, for the promise that this story is moving forward, nearer and nearer to the resurrection and the New Creation.

I’m writing this message the day after the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. I love that day, because it marks not the triumph of darkness, but the turning of the tide. On Thursday, Christmas Eve, there will be a few more seconds of light in the day than there were today. The light is gaining ground, a bit at a time, and will continue to do so until the bright days of high summer, when my bees will be singing their way from flower to flower and winter will seem like a dream. Jesus is making all things new. He is the wonderful counselor, and the government will be on his shoulders. We in the Rabbit Room love to tell that story, and Lord willing, will keep telling it, world without end.

Merry Christmas, AP

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