I would like to offer some thoughts regarding the role of art* in the conversation about caring for the common good of Goshen—and beyond—and “continuing the conversation.”

As one who works as spiritual director and an artist, I have spent considerable time reflecting on the polarities that make a whole: the inner and the outer … the being and the doing … the contemplative centering and the moving forward with action.

Several years ago I was at a peace conference at Earlham College. It’s a Quaker college, so it’s known for its practices of quiet reflection. I was struck by the emphasis on activists’ need to take time for contemplation, as well as creating art as a restorative and centering practice. It was pointed out that doing all activism could lead to a person being angry and burned out (sometimes due to not getting the “result” one wanted)—if one is not balanced by the renewing/regenerative and creative energies being cultivated.

My spiritual director, a Catholic sister, continues to emphasize that it’s healthier when actions arise from a contemplative life. Quieting down and becoming centered give space for emerging clarity about what subsequent actions might be in harmony with our inner guidance and readiness.

I recently became aware of a 2015 article in The Nation by Toni Morrison. The novelist and professor said she was feeling despondent and virtually unable to write in late 2004, still upset by the re-election of George W. Bush. An artist friend called to wish her happy holidays, and she started to tell him how she was feeling. He practically interrupted her, saying, “‘No! … This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’ I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.”

Morrison goes on to say: “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, … no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” She concludes: “Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

Especially in times of crisis I’m aware that there’s a tendency to want to do something—almost anything—to deal with the problem. I’m suggesting, though, that people quiet down and engage in a variety of creative activities to support one another and to offer ways of moving forward out of the strength of centeredness and clarity. I’m ready to explore this with others.

* I’m defining art quite broadly. Art can be painting, drawing, cartooning, writing (poetry and prose), music, photography, video, etc.