“Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds it has left behind. And then for the first time, a real prayer rose up in his heart.”
— The Silence, Shusaku Endo
I spent the whole of this morning immersed in a story of unimaginable physical suffering, mental anguish and spiritual wrestling of the deepest measure. Not that I needed a book to take me to such a place. The world seems chock full of such opportunities waiting no further away than my Facebook feed. The devastating images from Orlando today and Syria yesterday; you can fill in the blank as to where they'll come from tomorrow. The boiling arguments and cold thrusting assertions of blame; barrel-bomb delivered answers and assurances abound.
"Our Lord is not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him."
While many claim they have God’s absolute stamp of approval for their position — some, even His direct marching orders — far more contemplate the experience of the silence of God amidst the calamitous scratching and clawing. How could so few cause such holocaust in the name of God? How could so many sit idly by in the face of such suffering?
These are not new questions. Evil, suffering and indifference: Arrogant positions that offer only condemnation or cold comfort in the face of the former have been with us since the garden. Few have approached these questions with the insight and pathos that Endo does in his masterpiece, The Silence. It isn’t a new book; it first appeared in English in 1969. But it is about to be released as a major motion picture by Martin Scorsese this winter. I’ve had it on my reading list for a number of years. Now seemed an appropriate time.
I'm about to give the conclusion away, so if you are the kind of person who is put off by knowing the end of the book, stop reading here. I only include it as I feel there are few better encouragements on how to respond to current events than the one offered at the end of this masterpiece. I do worry, though, that without the context of what it took to get to these last lines of the book, the ending might come off as saccharine or superficial. Believe me, it’s far from it:
"Kichijiro wept softly; then left the house. The priest had administered that sacrament that only the priest can administer. No doubt his fellow priests would condemn his act as sacrilege; but even if he was betraying them, he was not betraying his Lord. He loved him now in a different way from before. Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him to this love. 'Even now I am the last priest in this land. But our Lord is not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.'"
Maybe it’s just that I am older. Maybe it’s the inescapable presence of constant calamity. Maybe it’s just that I am coming to know all this in my own bones, but the journey of Endo’s hero, Rodrigues, rang convictingly substantial, weighty. There was kavod, glory in it. I offer it here as a meditation, a prayer and a plea for all of us who follow a Jesus who knows suffering, insult, persecution and pain in ways that are universal to all of our own sufferings. I offer it as a way of interacting honestly, with integrity and intention in a world opposed to all such actions. I offer it as a way of both understanding and of admitting to the mystery of faith. And of silence.
Grace and peace y’all,
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.