Even the most introverted of us recognizes the need for authentic community. The problem is, how do you get beyond the surface-level interchanges of “Hey, how’s it going?” “Ok, I guess,” and into the deep, meaningful interactions that you crave?
There are, of course, those rare, serendipitous moments when connection seems to occur out of the blue. I’ve had conversations with complete strangers in which I suddenly feel as if we’re looking right into one another’s soul. Maybe we discover that we’re both devoted to the same under-appreciated author, or that we share delightful memories of some obscure corner of the globe. Still, these are just momentary flashes of light that come and go. Real community is a fire that requires regular tending of the flame. And just like a fire, it requires a steady supply of fuel and a healthy atmosphere in which to breathe.
I’ve been blessed to take part in wide variety of relational circles, all over the world. They’ve all had one factor in common: In order to foster meaningful relationships, you must intentionally create time and space for them to grow. As nice as it would be to have deep friendships “just happen,” they rarely do.
Community-building is going to look different for each person, in each chapter of life. However, I’d like to share one idea that’s been a great source of encouragement and inspiration to me over the last few years. It’s a monthly gathering that my friends and I simply call Arts Night.
Tonya, an author friend of mine, first had the idea: a chance to linger over tea and coffee while discussing any and all things arts-related. Book clubs abound, but this group would have a slightly different slant. Not only could friends share their latest good read, we could also discuss favorite films, a good poem, a meaningful song, or an artwork we’d encountered. It would be a chance to talk about things that matter, but that rarely get airtime in generic conversation.
Meanwhile, I was feeling frustrated that I hardly ever had the chance to talk and hear about the things that were really important to me: the beautiful truths I encountered in story, song, and visual art. I missed the constant flow of ideas I’d enjoyed in college. When Tonya told me about Arts Night, I jumped at the chance.
I devoured those creative evenings like a marooned sailor on a desert island. When Tonya moved out of state, I gladly offered to keep hosting the group. This was just too good a thing to lose! Four years into it, we’re still going strong.Our Arts Night looks a little different each month. The common links are light refreshments, laughter, and a desire to both create and celebrate creativity together.
Several times a year we have what I call a “round table” evening, in which everyone brings something they’ve been reading, looking at, or listening to, in order to share and discuss it together. It’s a great opportunity to learn about all sorts of authors, poets, artists and musicians that I haven’t yet experienced–or to remember ones I’ve forgotten. It’s also a fantastic way to get to know one another on a deeper level. What stirs your friend’s soul? What inspires them? There’s so much more to each one of us than our outward lives might suggest.
Once school is out, summer movie nights are lots of fun. One year, we watched through the Anne of Green Gables series; another year featured film adaptations of Jane Austen novels. And last summer, we searched out little-known indie flicks.
I’m always on the lookout for new, fun ideas to intersperse with old ones. Last month, we branched out into a little armchair theater, doing a dramatic reading of Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias. I also like to host a few special guests each year. This gives local authors and artists an audience for their work, and a chance for us to get an inside peek on their creative process. We’ve had some book and poetry readings, several step-by-step painting events, and a hands-on floral design workshop. We’ve even had an “Arts Day,” touring a local art museum together.
The possibilities are truly endless, and creativity breeds more creativity. But the important thing is that each month, we’re intentionally adding fuel to the fire of deep, meaningful friendships, in an atmosphere in which each person is welcomed, heard, and loved for who they are.
What are some ways that you’ve found to build community and nourish your own and others’ creativity?