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Silence

I recently finished reading Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel Silence, which has been made into a film by Martin Scorsese. I then watched the film this weekend. Both the book and the film are stunningly beautiful, heart-wrenching, layered with complexity, and thought-provoking.

Silence is a work of historical fiction centred on the Portuguese Catholic mission to Japan in the 1600s when Japan outlawed Christianity and systematically and harshly persecuted native believers and foreign missionaries. Endo was a Japanese Catholic and well equipped to thoughtfully explore themes of faith, certainty, apostasy, and persecution.

Scorsese’s treatment of the novel is a masterpiece and faithful to the tone and complexity of the original.

I resonate with Andrew Sullivan’s reflections:

It’s a surpassingly beautiful movie — but its genius lies in the complexity of its understanding of what faith really is. For some secular liberals, faith is some kind of easy, simple abdication of reason — a liberation from reality. For Scorsese, it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery, and often inseparable from crippling, perpetual doubt. You see this in the main protagonist’s evolution: from a certain, absolutist arrogance to a long sacrifice of pride toward a deeper spiritual truth. ….

There are moments — surpassingly rare but often indelible — when you do hear the voice of God and see the face of Jesus. You never forget them — and I count those few moments in my life when I have heard the voice and seen the face as mere intimations of what is to come. But the rest is indeed silence. And the conscience is something that cannot sometimes hear itself. I’ve rarely seen the depth of this truth more beautifully unpacked. Which is why, perhaps, the movie has had such a tiny audience so far. Those without faith have no patience for a long meditation on it; those with faith in our time are filled too often with a passionate certainty to appreciate it. And this movie’s mysterious imagery can confound anyone.

I’m now reading Makoto Fujimura’s (the famed American Japanese artist and Christian commentator) book Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, which explores Endo’s novel with reflections on faith, art, and suffering.

Early in the novel, the young Father Rodrigues says, “Men are born in two categories: the strong and the weak, the saints and the commonplace, the heroes and those who respect them. In time of persecution the strong are burnt in the flames and drowned in the sea; but the weak, like Kichijiro, lead a vagabond life in the mountains.” In response to this assertion, Fujimura comments:

While setting up this dichotomy of the strong and the weak, Endo skillfully arranges these clues in the same way that a mystery novelist would embed clues that misdirect the reader. The clues, the traps, are set so that the reader agrees with the observer of the failed persons, reacting in derision and judgment. At the time Father Rodrigues makes the previous observation he is quite confident of his faith, which in many ways carries with it the imperialistic confidence of the Western God of Christianity, triumphantly set to overcome the “pagan” religions of Japan. A casual reader will find it easy to judge Kichijiro, a Japanese who has betrayed his family and his Christian community by stepping on the fumi-e, denouncing his faith and surviving the persecution. Endo invites the reader to judge Kichijiro in the same way that Father Rodrigues does. We have a tendency to extol heroes of faith; our textbooks and our sermons are filled with the heroic. In doing so, we fall into a false dichotomy of seeing faith only in terms of victory or failure, which leads us to dismiss and discard the weak. Endo stands with those sitting in the pews who feel inadequate and uncertain, who doubt whether they can be strong, heroic and faith-filled. Endo, therefore, sets up ways in which his confident characters are forced to go through ambiguity, trauma and failures. Rodrigues is forced to find another way to understand his faith, and Kichijiro turns out to be a transformed person in the end.

Fujimura has a companion website with artful and thoughtful video reflections on Silence. I’m sure I’ll be posting more from both these videos and his book in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t read Silence or seen the film, consider doing so.

 

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My favourite songwriter, Andrew Peterson, released his latest album this week. The Burning Edge of Dawn is another fabulous collection of songs, prayers, longings, confessions, and hopes. Do yourself a favour and go download it now.

The Burning Edge of Dawn

I especially enjoyed the opening track “The Dark Before the Dawn” (an expectation, a reminder that this momentary affliction will be eclipsed by a weight of glory) and  “Be Kind to Yourself” (a personal song for his children).

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I can’t get this song out of my head, and that’s fine with me.

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A fabulous rendition of “Come Ye Sinners” with the “Musical Priest” reel by Keith and Kristyn Getty

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