The last of the 2011 Revisited posts, originally from September 29. Words can't express how much a weekend in Nashville meant to me this year, but I tried. I also tried again here, in a guest blog for Centricity Nation. Thanks for re-reading these with me the past two weeks... Happy New Year!
I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this past weekend. When I try to distill everything down to its essence, two words surface over and over again.
A week ago today, in a small church tucked in a tree-lined street far from home, a hundred or so people gathered -- a few I'd met before, and most whose names I’d only seen on my computer screen. As Andrew Peterson closed a Square Peg Alliance concert with "Many Roads," a song I'm sure I've heard a hundred times (and at least four or five live), those two words came to mind and settled there like a sigh. Maybe it’s because he saved it for the end instead of the beginning of the show, or maybe it was being in an unfamiliar town, but somehow, I truly heard his words for the first time that night. This time, I was the traveler who had come so far just to take part in a story.
"You can see the roads that we all traveled just to get here,
A million minuscule decisions in a line.
Why they brought us to this moment isn't clear,
But that's all right.
We've got all night."
So began the Hutchmoot.
Hutchmoot is a vague concept; even the people that host it say so. In the weeks leading to the trip, I found it hard to tell people why I was taking off for a few days. What was I looking for?
Was it a conference? A retreat? A gathering for so-called "creatives"? Music and book lovers? A place to learn to be a better writer, musician, or artist?
The thing about a mass gathering of The Rabbit Room is this: those who’ve experienced this community, who love the people behind it, who get a thrill out of stories and poetry, could probably figure it out right away. Those who haven't, I suspect, may find it hard to understand the point, or maybe they will take a curious risk and be pulled right in. And once you’re in, it's hard to walk away unchanged. Maybe even impossible.
Hutchmoot is a place to rally around our passions, where strangers become friends in minutes, and the simplest dinner is a work of art. We can geek out and quote lines from our favorite books without feeling judged, or take a spontaneous walk with people we barely know and feel safe. We know music can transform hearts and a poem can make a slit through the veil between heaven and earth, even if for just a moment.
But most of all, in just a few short days, it became an extended family. It sounds crazy, but like the best crazy things, it just might be true. I won't deny that even though I'd been waiting six months to finally reach that place, the moment I pulled into The Church of the Redeemer's parking lot, the familiar panic of uncertainty set in. I rarely feel at home in crowds of new people, and even though I'd been talking to many of these folks online, there's no way of knowing how those relationships will translate face to face between the very real people behind avatars and screen names.
But by the time we settled down to dinner, the first of Evie's beautiful and delicious meals, I knew it was all going to be okay.
There is far, far more to those four days than I can begin to describe. The sessions were conversations on the art that moves us, whether listening to songwriters share insights on the craft or watching two writers express their unashamed passion for poetry. And there were no walls between us. No pretension or posturing, no sitting with the "cool people," no division between those who "made it" and those who haven't. Even when Redeemer transformed into a full-fledged concert venue for Jason Gray's album release show on Friday night, it still felt more like a bunch of friends celebrating the accomplishments of one of our own than just another event.
We gathered to enter and, just for a weekend, live among each other's stories, share some laughs and tears and food, and be present and alive.
In Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, a lovely little book that seemed to come up a lot in conversation, Heaven is described as this: "In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets." If this is true -- and I believe it is, more than ever -- I'd like to think this weekend was a peek behind the curtain, hinting of that time. I'd like to think our new friendships will carry us further into the tale, even as we go our separate ways, and someday we’ll gather at a new table and retell Thomas McKenzie’s story about blowing up the Taylor Mart. (a true one that is already legendary)
I puzzled all weekend over a small card in my folder with the lyrics and chords to "Jesus, We Are Grateful" by Jason Gray. That song was a particularly magical moment live, with the little church about to burst with song, but I never was sure why we were given this. Now that I look back, if “Many Roads” was the welcoming, then I wonder if this was a benediction to send us back to the everyday.
"We will follow into family
And be seated at your table
Where matchless grace
Of an orphan makes
A child of God in full."
Again, I hear it. You belong.