October 12, 2010
On a recent visit to NYC I encountered the following words: “The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little.” They were spoken in 1896 by Booker T. Washington during his address to the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn, NY. At the time, he was anticipating the ramifications of various divisions within the nation—between north and south, between dominant culture and those whom that culture would force into the margins. And in the portion of text from which this quote originates, Mr. Washington was envisioning education that was charged with the highest purpose of connecting people to the humanity of their neighbors—perhaps especially when those neighbors are different. The upcoming winter issue of Ruminate
brings together responses to the theme “Silence.” In many spiritual communities the notion and practice of silence is imbued with reverence, with a sense of holy presence. Mother Teresa was known for expressing her belief that “God speaks in the silence of the heart.” And these associations with silence are beautiful. But I would like to offer that there is a different kind of silence that does not foster, but instead disintegrates life. It is the silence of safety. A silence that chooses to be non-responsive when confronted with scenarios of division between people, communities, and nations. It is a silence of apathy, of indifference to violence. It is silence that fears shifts of power—even if those shifts will create a more equitable world, a more peace-filled world, a world that embodies Shalom—the world as God intended it to be. I have to say, my encounter with Booker T. Washington’s words left me pondering my role as an educator and editor. Many monastic traditions adamantly express the need to connect contemplative practice to active and attentive living in the world. As an editor I hope that our readership will encounter the divine through words and images made holy by the generosity of an insanely generous God, words and images made holy whether or not they profess
that God. I also hope that these encounters will refresh people, reinvigorate hope that allows us to go confidently into the lives we have been given, and therein foster communities where people are recognized as people, as neighbors, as worth getting to know…even if they are different. More than that, as an editor I hope any contemplative encounters would lead to raising our voices in solidarity with someone whose voice has been muffled by any system, structure, or power dynamic that would rather have them overlooked, forgotten, and even removed from the conversations that propel our society forward. My hope is that contemplative encounters with a holy presence, perceived in the every-day experience of words and image, might break the silence that leads us in small ways to become complicit in harm done to our neighbors. So tonight I leave you with Mr. Washington’s words. They are not my own, but as an art educator I do hope one day to embody this idea, and that the people who look at art, and study it, will understand that images are not only for aesthetic enjoyment--contemplation leads to much more than a feeling of well-being, and silence is not always golden. I close with another quote, this time from Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist and woman of faith who brought her intellect, her contemplation, and knowledge to a conversation in which she raised her voice to champion a world that more fully embodies the Peace of God. Tonight I borrow the words of Mr. Washington and Ms. Mead because they are more eloquent than my own.
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so we weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”
I invite you to add your voice to the conversation. Be well, and dream improbable dreams. Who knows what could happen...
If you liked this post, check this out: How Can We Be Silent?
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February 17, 2017
Your statements about silence are well taken. Dante won’t even put those who were silent, were neutral in the Inferno proper, since those condemned for particular sins would have someone to whom they could feel superior. Nothing but scorn for the neutral, the silent.
Having said that, however, I think the besetting problem for many religious people is loudness, not silence. We live in a jangling culture.