I don’t think of myself as artistic. At best, I can say that I created eight beautiful children of varying hues and temperaments. My love of science and research led to my career as a labor and delivery nurse. That’s not to say there isn’t magic and creativity required in my work, but I felt much more at home in a birthing suite than an art studio.
Even now the idea of those parties where everyone goes and paints the same picture at a studio makes me break out in hives. So when I agreed to go to Hutchmoot three years ago with my husband Wes, I worried I wouldn’t fit in at all. Like maybe there would be a screening test to check in: “Do you play guitar, mandolin, or fiddle? Have you recently published a novel, essay, or popular blog post? What is your favorite medium for artistic expression? Nothing? None of these? Okay ma’am, we’re going to have to ask you to wait in your car for your husband to finish the conference.”
I went because it was so important to him. He needed community and encouragement in his artistic pursuits, so I was along for the ride simply to support him. I have to admit, I almost chickened out in the car as I watched all these people confidently striding through the doors, some running to hug each other’s necks, others already laughing loudly (side note: I have since learned that this is not actually how everyone feels and that if I had just looked at the cars around me I might have seen others having the same internal struggle). I was fully prepared to be the outsider the whole weekend, and just hoped they had good food and a comfortable couch I could sit on while I waited.
But that’s not what happened.
Not only did I make a new lifelong friend before I even made it out of the merch area, over the course of the weekend I unexpectedly found my people. These were people who gave voice to ideas that had been forming in my heart and mind unnamed for years; people who sang songs that awakened longing in my soul; people who stirred up excitement and encouragement in me that I felt needed to be shared. In a sort of epiphany moment I realized that since I wasn’t an artist or musician or writer, I actually had more time and energy to encourage and support those doing the work I loved.
I spent the next year diving into anything and everything that had to do with the Rabbit Room. I read the back issues of posts, listened to old podcasts, found new writers to read and musicians to listen to. I developed deep friendships with people I met online in the Facebook Chinwag. And I loved it!
The next year at Hutchmoot I realized I was now the one squealing with delight over reunions with long missed friends. Everything felt richer. In the midst of all this, however, as I forged friendships with more and more artists, a question was nagging at me: do I really have a place in this community as someone who isn’t an artist?
I wrestled with this insecurity, thinking surely I wasn’t the only non-artist at Hutchmoot or in the Rabbit Room extended family. But did I truly belong? Did I have just as valid a reason to claim a seat at the table as everyone else? Or were there “preferred” people, the artists, who alone get to occupy those seats while I have to content myself to just walk behind and pat them on the back?
The question at the root of it all was this: Do we all belong, have a role and meaning, within the Rabbit Room, and really, within the body of Christ?
It was in this context of considering my role as a non-artist that a conversation with Doug McKelvey took place, and ultimately led to our collaboration on a 2019 Hutchmoot session that focused on that very topic. In that conversation I explained how I was noticing the parallels between my role on the maternity ward and the way I help and serve my husband at home in his creative ventures. It was intriguing to me to think in these terms, because I had never once questioned the validity or importance of my role at work. It was only in other areas of life that I had struggled to see my role, and myself, as valuable.
As a labor and delivery nurse I spend my nights helping laboring women make the transition from woman to mother. My job has many roles, and the more I thought about them, the more I could see parallels for how I help Wes bring about the “birth” of his works of art at home.
Sometimes I’m a bouncer or gatekeeper, just making sure random unwanted people don’t crash the birthday party at inopportune times. Other times I am an advocate, pleading the case to help buy my patient as much time as I can so that she can try to avoid a cesarean section, or convince the doctor to let her have that epidural now instead of making her wait. I crack jokes and tell stories to help an anxious woman or nervous dad feel more comfortable. I sometimes have to go find that nervous dad who has wandered off for coffee at the worst time and make sure he doesn’t miss anything important—you know, like the birth of his firstborn.
I am a guide who has walked the road before, a cheerleader who really believes the patient in my care can do this, a coach telling her how to breathe, a time-keeper who says it’s not time to push yet, a drill sergeant who says forcefully “get it together! You can do this!” and helps them snap out of the despair that tempts them to believe they’re defeated, so that they can muster courage for a final push to get that baby out.
Most importantly, I help a woman find the strength she already has to do what she was created to do. And then, when finally the moment arrives and all the sweat and tears and pain and exertion pay off in the welcoming of a child to this world, I am always in awe. It never gets old.
I’m there to assist in that intimate moment when the new mom holds her baby for the first time. I see that look of wonder as she meets this new person who has changed her life. I’m not the one giving birth, this isn’t my baby, but in some small way I get to be part of the miracle. The effort and the experience and the joy are shared.
We all work together, each playing their part, so that the project comes to fruition and the reach and impact of the work are amplified. Bailey McGee
The more I considered this, the more I could see that being present to witness a guitar being created, or to hear the beauty of a song finally coming together, or to read and give feedback or encouragement on the seventh revision of a novel is no less a participation in a miracle of sub-creation. I may not be the one giving birth to those works either, but just as before, I can be a facilitator, an intercessor, an encourager, and a witness. I am as much a participant in the process here because it isn’t just about the physical act of “making” but also about everything that aids or hinders that creative process. I can care and nurture my people as they find the strength to do what they were called to do, then share in the joy and stewardship of this creation as it goes on to fulfill its redemptive purpose. So just as my role at work makes me a participant in the birthing stories of so many women, so my role in relation to craftspeople, writers, artists, and musicians allows me to participate in the birthing of their good works. And every single one of these works, these acts of creation that send beacons of hope and messages about God’s love and redemption out into the world, are important.
At least one reason The Rabbit Room exists is to bring into the world art that would nourish the community, the church, and the culture. It was a revelation for me to finally realize that just because I’m not the one actually creating the art doesn’t mean artists don’t need what I personally bring to this community.
Community nourishes that art. I love the image that someone offered (probably Doug) that it’s like we’re launching spears into the world, works that might penetrate the shadows and drive back the darkness. But any particular song or painting or book is just the tip of that spear.
And no one just lobs a spear tip and expects anything to come of it. It has to have a shaft with weight and length in order for the spear to be balanced, to fly true and to hit its mark with enough power to penetrate. We, the rest of the community, whether we also consider ourselves artists or not, together are the shaft, the binding, the eye that spies the target, the feet planted for stability, and the arm that flings the spear so that it travels far, not to mention those who worked behind the scene in prayer and intercession. We all work together, each playing their part, so that the project comes to fruition and the reach and impact of the work are amplified.
I remember a conversation with Carrie Givens and several others about what to call myself as I struggled to find my place in this community. We tossed around several suggestions, some better than others. While I loved the nod to Oscar N. Reteep as an appreciator, I was leaning toward the term patroness (mostly because it sounds like I’m a character in a Jane Austin book) even though I don’t get to spend nearly as much money supporting other people’s projects as I would like.
“You’re a namer,” Carrie interjected matter-of-factly (and somewhat ironically, as she was the one doing the “naming” in that moment). But the idea resonated and stuck with me. Carrie further explained how she first encountered this concept of “namers” in a blog post: “Finally, reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wind in the Door, I found it: Theo (Vincent Van Gogh’s brother) was a Namer. . . Namers remind us who we are and that our endeavors are worth doing. . .”
Carrie Givens is, of course, herself a Namer of the first order. Her observations and encouragements have been instrumental in helping me find my own role here in The Rabbit Room. Further along in Carrie’s post she references Diana Glyer’s use (in her book Bandersnatch) of the related term Resonator as a term to describe “anyone who acts as a friendly, interested, supportive audience.” Glyer says that “Resonators give feedback, praise, encouragement, and offer help and promote an artist’s work.” Carrie goes on to say:
I would call namers a subset of this category, with the specific role of telling, affirming, and reminding the artist of who he or she is. The Inklings, Glyer notes, served as resonators for one another, exerting a mutual, beneficial, shaping influence on each other’s writings and in each other’s lives. “For All the Namers,” Carrie Givens
One of the central tenets of the Rabbit Room is that art nourishes community, and community nourishes art. And to me the profound thing about that idea is that the friendships—the heart-shaping relationships, the Christ-centered community—will outlast the works themselves. . . If you want to write good books, good songs, good poems, you need some talent, yes. You also need to work hard, practice a lot, cultivate self-discipline, and study the greats. But you also need good friends. You need fellowship. You need community. “The Inklings, Diana Glyer, and the Art of Community,” Andrew Peterson
So what does this mean for each of us in our families, our churches, our communities—and yes, in this far-flung, sometimes hard to define, but dearly-loved group we know as The Rabbit Room? I would suggest that it first means we should take the Apostle Paul seriously when he writes:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26
This is the place where we first must meet. We are all part of the body of Christ, and we have come together to make up this unique collection of people. And here, if scripture is to be believed, we are not only all welcome at the table, but we are each individually needed and necessary. We aren’t here by accident. Each of us has a role to play, whether it’s in actively creating, or actively loving, serving, encouraging, facilitating, and amplifying the creativity of another. And a beautiful aspect of the Rabbit Room is that often we can shift between roles, free to use our gifts however they best serve the work and people involved.
So I must take seriously my role as a midwife for the creative processes going on around me, because the Kingdom is advanced by each of us playing our part—at the end of the day, this is how the work gets done. This is how we grow, and how we together love the world that so desperately needs the beauty, the wonder, the joy, the hope, the healing, forgiveness, redemption, and resurrection offered in the person of Christ.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16.
That’s the vision, the blueprint. Okay, so great. I’ve come to recognize myself as having a role to play in that work, as not being an outsider but one who belongs here. Now what does that actually look like?
For me, it meant starting at home. When my husband, Wes is working on a guitar or other project, he can lose himself in the process. He becomes intensely focused on his work, sometimes forgetting even to eat. I can step into a role of midwifing that process. I can do practical things like take him some food (in his case, a taco). Keep the kids occupied. Pay the bills and do the dishes while he’s in the frantic last few days before a deadline (because artists never procrastinate until the last minute. Ever.) I can answer those phone calls and reply to texts from his mom. I even listen to him play the guitar in the last stages of crafting, giving my honest but non-professional opinion.
We as a community share the privilege, the labors, and the joy of what transpires when we come together, all of us, to make sure the work gets done—that our collective calling is fulfilled, that our peculiar role in the story of God's Kingdom is well-played. Bailey McGee
I think it’s important to note here that everyone can do something. You do not have to be a world-class guitarist or know the difference between steel string and classical to just listen and given your honest feedback. I’m happy to read the novel my daughter is writing, even though I’m the last person you should come to for help with grammar (thanks to everyone who edited this for me!). I can help with what I know and show caring involvement, even if I don’t have technical knowledge. Here’s the great thing about the body of Christ: Other people do have that knowledge. That’s someone else’s job, and praise Jesus someone understands commas. We are just called to do what we can, where we are, to build up this community.
But just because we aren’t always the ones creating the work of art doesn’t mean sacrifices and hard work aren’t asked of us. Keeping the house running with those aforementioned eight kids while Wes backs up a friend on guitar at a Mass on Saturday evenings can be a lot of work. But I know with my help, new manifestations of goodness and light are being ushered into the world. And sometimes, something else happens.
In Exodus 1:15-21 we meet Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives told by Pharaoh to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. They defy him and let the boys live. The text says they are given families of their own for being faithful.
I think something interesting can happen when you spend your time pouring into the lives of others, helping them to live more fully into their own callings. Sometimes God makes room to pour into you when you have poured yourself into others.
I am the last person who ever thought I could be creative. But, after being around all you lovely people, I started wanting to create too. My personality tends toward the practical, so since I like to eat, I began to experiment with the crafting of creative—maybe even artistic?—pies. Getting involved in this community helped me to see that even making a pie could be a way to send light into the world. If Doug will indulge the slight change to one of his liturgies:
Let us make this day a pie that would point to that day, a meal to remind of the beauty and the love and the promise undergirding all creation. Let us make a pie to remind our pilgrim guests that life will not always be so burdened, that their days of exile will end, and that they will feast at last joyfully in the city of their hope, at the table of their God-King, at the wedding fest of their Prince , at the dawning of a golden age, untouched by mortal sorrows. from “A Liturgy for the Preparation of an Artisan Meal,” Doug McKelvey
Here we each steward gifts for the benefit of others, whatever those gifts may be. Each of us steward the power to remind each other (in so many ways) that this life will not always be so hard, this world not always so broken, and that we are standing on that burning edge of dawn where the rising light of redemption is already visible.
We as a community share the privilege, the labors, and the joy of what transpires when we come together, all of us, to make sure the work gets done—that our collective calling is fulfilled, that our peculiar role in the story of God’s Kingdom is well-played. We all belong, we all are needed, we all have a part to play to see Christ glorified in our midst and in our world.