A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
was wrong about that…
Yehuda Amichai, “A Man in His Life” 1
Held within the raised hand of a conductor, before the rush of the orchestra’s first notes, exists the imagined potential of the sound that follows. When the conductor enters the hall, all at once applaud; but then, what does the conductor need most from those assembled?
In this silence, the conductor may imagine, even hear, what they anticipate the orchestra and chorus will deliver. They need quiet. Sometimes, perhaps, they are listening for that first phrase, and when it is clearly in their mind, the wand comes up, and down. Then follows the out breath, and comes forth the action.
Here we see a kind of ideal—although somewhat mystifying—relationship between the contemplative and the active, one heralded for centuries by mystics and theologians, including Howard Thurman, whose teachings and writings have been integral to the Arts Initiative’s understanding of silence. Yet, as the speaker in Yehuda Amichai’s poem, A Man in His Life, humorously observes, it is a unity that remains for most of us aspirational. It is, I think, this particular aspiration that has always added philosophical zest to the mission and design of Grace Farms; to be a space and community that is, at once, shaped by contemplation and action.
The five initiatives at Grace Farms represent the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration required for human flourishing. When we are thinking about nature, arts, community, justice, and faith during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an unprecedented opportunity to emphasize the relationship between contemplation and action. Even to consider these two aspects of our work seems to require multiple perspectives and instances.
Through the collaborative work of the Grace Farms Alliance Against COVID-19 and the indomitable teamwork of Grace Farms staff and volunteers, the current crisis facing healthcare workers in critical need of PPE in our region has been met with joy-inducing and miraculously immediate relief. The extraordinary Grace Farms Commons team, led by chef Neena Perez, has prepared and delivered sustaining food supplies in staggering proportions to neighboring not-for-profits serving those most vulnerable in our communities. Such actions deliver, in the face-off against despair, a fresh smack of abundance, even the kernels of which can linger through days long endured into night.
At the origins of the Practicing Silence program at Grace Farms was the idea and question of silence as the predicate for just action. We considered the seemingly paradoxical relationship between the contemplative and the active, between silence and sound, in the spaces of the River building. Our contributing artists collectively sought through the work to demonstrate the concept that within the conductor’s upbeat is the potential for all the music, speech, and action that follows, and to do so collaboratively working at the intersections of disciplines. In this way, the artists of Practicing Silence sought to draw a very real parallel to the nature of social action in the midst of social crisis.
Reflecting on the joy-working endeavors of our Grace Farms colleagues, and artists still practicing while sheltering, we may discover that embedded in this moment of crisis is not only an imperative towards interdisciplinary collaboration, but also an urgency to cultivate the practices that will signal and produce a chorus of just actions in a future that seems now at an uncertain distance.
1. Yehuda Amichai, “A Man in His Life” from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai by Yehuda Amichai, edited and translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. Copyright 1986, 1996 by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press.