Japanese Christians, Liturgy of Life Readaing Group, Endo's Silence

How to measure holiness

Right now in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group we are reading Silence, a novel set in Japan during the persecution of the Christian church in the mid 1600’s.

Early in the story we come to a scene of two men, Christian leaders of a peasant village.  They are tied to boards and dragged to the edge of the sea positioned not to drown immediately, but so the water comes right up around their faces, covering their tense bodies. The older man Ichizo passes quickly from exhaustion. The younger, Mokichi, lingers for a few days singing,

We’re on our way, we’re on our way, We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise. . .

These Japanese Christians, like many in the persecuted church around the world today die for their faith without ever having practiced it freely. Their church life was conducted in hushed whispers in dark rooms, they learned through quiet instructions passed down, not from learned scholars, but from other peasants. They knew nearly nothing of the Bible, had few Christian traditions and many of their practices blended with local folklore so that in many ways it did not resemble Christianity at all.

And yet when the line was drawn they chose to stand on the side of Christ even if it meant their life.

 

NPR has a short article on Japanese Hidden Christians. In many ways their faith has developed into something separate from traditional Christianity as it mixed with other religious traditions around it. Still these men draw  strength from their ancestors who bled and died as Christians during times of persecution.

 

It makes me wonder.   What does it even mean to be a Christian?

 

Is Christianity something that begins when we are of an age when we can make a rational decision and recite a certain prayer, making the personal choice to submit ourselves to Christ.  If that’s so does it mean that our children prior to this point aren’t Christians?

 

Or is it baptism, even in infancy, which ushers in the presence of the holy spirit? Does this make the baptized a Christian even if they never practice their faith?

 

Or does our Christianity hinge on believing the right thing about Jesus? What about those who are never taught, or who are taught wrong because they have no teachers?

 

Most men and women who will be martyred this year are not especially devout. They are ordinary people, often simply born into a Christian family. They are people like us or our neighbors with no saint-like constitution or advanced understanding.  And yet when the trial comes and only holiness can lead them through it with faith intact these modern day martyrs will rise up onto their own crosses next to Christ. They will boldly (though probably quite fearfully) take a stand while the rest of us wonder if any amount of study or prayer will make us ready for that sort of trial?

 

We live in a culture where holiness is optional even among Christians.  Depending on your tradition, maturity in the faith is synonymous with either following rules or with the accumulation of Biblical knowledge. Mokichi and others like him don’t have the much of either, yet as they face impending death singing hymns to God there is little doubt in my mind.  They are holy. They seek Christ and He is with them.

 

Martyr stories make me wonder if our most painful moments are also our most sacred. And if praying to be released from suffering is also seeking to escape from the revelation of the deepest Truth.  As our bodies tear open and birth a child, or as we weep for the baby we never had, or stare down at a grave or up at the ceiling from our hospital bed, perhaps it is then that we encounter the Divine Spirit, maybe we even find Him within ourselves. And maybe it is this Holy Spirit that sustains us and draws us to the foot of the cross and to The One who suffers for us. And maybe as we find Him we become holy and maybe that is what we have been looking for all this time.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

Japanese Christians, Liturgy of Life Readaing Group, Endo's Silence

 

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This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Silence by Shusaku Endo. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

 

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On listening to God and knowing when it’s time to stop asking for more

For all of you who have been praying for us in our infertility struggles I have a story to tell you (before you get too excited  this is not a lead in to a  pregnancy announcement).

 

My one year old daughter was swaddled and snoozing, I was home from work after anther 16 hour day, at my desk, head in my hands, praying the evening prayer service at The Trinity Mission, Exhausted, I was mostly reciting the words trying to get my heart in sync with.

And then the room changed.

 

God was there.  There was no bright light or angels singing but a heaviness descended over me. I was absorbed in peace that felt full and continued to get fuller as I sat.  There was no audible voice but in my heart I heard these words,

 

“I’ll give you a full household. . . but not of your own children.”

 

And that was it.

 

No amount of longing or reaching could make that peace stay, it lifted and I finished my prayer wondering if I had made up the whole thing.

 

Sometimes when I share this story, others think it means we should adopt. At night I worry that it means my daughter will die. But when the words came they didn’t feel like a command or a warning. They just felt like God’s presence.

 

Over the past three years I have hated those words. I’ve convinced myself that I misheard or was delusional.

And at the same time, I have loved them. They assure me that God is with me, that I am seen and known and loved and through them my grief is far more bearable (I’ll add that I do believe that God could still give us another child, far be it from me know the extent of His plans for me, all I know is that these are the words He has given me and my sense after He spoke them was that we wouldn’t have more children.)

 

This week I read this by an Orthodox Saint,

We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness, for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door of our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him?

Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare’ before God. As Saint Paul says, ‘Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes.’ We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave all things to the will of God.

 

And then over the past few months on our Liturgy of Life reading group  has been reading and writing about grief and suffering in the life of the Christian.  In my own family we have been  singing and meditating on the psalms, lately these words have been constant on my lips.

Here my prayer O Lord give ear to my cry for mercy.

In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness.

Enter not into judgement with your servant;

For no one living is righteous before you;

For the enemy has pursued my soul,

he has crushed my life to the ground.

He has made me to dwell in dark places

like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me.

My heart within me is desolate.

 

In desolation I’ve been revisiting God’s words over me.  And today I am ready for a new prayer, a prayer I’ve never prayed in all these years. Today I stand with open hands, my heart longs for more children, but in longs for Christ more. Today I take my eyes off of the, “not of your own children,” and remember that God always words for my best. Today I remember the first part of his words to me.

Today I pray for a full household, whatever that could mean.

 

gratitude

 

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Endo's Silence. Liturgy of Life Reading Group.

Ordinary Grief Thoughts from Shusaku Endo's Silence

Silence, Liturgy of Life Reading Group. Grief and the Ordinary

 

Like me you probably woke up this week to the news that 50 young people had been murdered. In my divided mind I grieved while shamefully breathing a sigh of relief, at least it wasn’t my family, at least it wasn’t in my town, at least it was at night.  And then I rattled my brain thinking of useless ways to preserve the lives of those I love, as if my arms were big enough to shelter even one of them from the violence of the world.

 

Like me your may have looked into the wide eyes of a little child and done your best to explain,

 

“A man chose the path of darkness and he hurt a lot of people,” and known that it wasn’t enough.

 

Like me you may have been met with a puzzled face and a request for oatmeal yet shuddered knowing that the hard questions will come.

 

The ordinariness of it all drives the pain deeper. I can’t fly to Orlando and hold the hand of a grieving mother (what would she want with my hand anyhow?), I can’t even cross the border to Boystown and rescue little girls from prostitution, the Syrian refugee may as well be on another planet. Instead I bake blueberry muffins and fold laundry and go out for frozen yogurt. Life continues one step in front of the other, one day after the next.

 

In our reading group we are beginning Silence by Shusaku Endo, a story about the persecution of Christians in Japan. In the first chapters we find ourselves caught up in the life of a missionary priest wrestling with the faith to which he has devoted his life as it confronts the silence of God in the face of the persecution of Japanese Christians.

 

Silence, Liturgy of Life Reading Group. Grief and the Ordinary

 

And I am right there with him, looking at Orlando, looking at Syria, staring across the border wall, shaking my fists, longing for God to intervene.  And I don’t have an answer except that I am too small. Too small to demand that God intercede with a miracle and rescue us from the consequences of the free will that He has given us.  Too small even to know what will amount to good or bad at the end of an age.  And so the ordinary stretches on, the violence continues and I tremble and I pray.

 

 

Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
 The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes chapter 1 versus 4-11

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right are reading Silence by Shusaku Endo. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

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On the Entwinement of Grief and Joy

On the Entwinement of Grief and Joy Starting our latest Reading Group Book, Silence by Shusaku Endo

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

For the enemy has pursued my soul;

he has crushed my life to the ground;

he has made me to dwell in dark places like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me;

my heart within me is desolate.

excerpt from Psalm 143

 

There are times when the words of the Old Testament are foreign, even repulsive, they drip off my ears forming puddles and pools on the floor.  But then there are times when I soak them up like a dry sponge, and they saturate the deep places in my soul.

 

Our family has taken to memorizing and reciting psalms together (we are actually learning to chant them which is an amazing tool for internalizing scripture but more on that later).  Over the past months we have been consuming Psalm 143, digesting it and incorporating it into our bodies.  Today the words resound in me. Today my soul is desolate. Today I don’t care for any of my success.  Today all I want is to be able to create another baby and to give birth to her and watch her grow and be home and mother. Today I stare at ink drying on paper as I write and I’m grateful for this small distraction from my self pity. Today I  grieve.

 

When we pray the psalms at our table we light a candle and we look at images like this one:

 

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

 

A young mother who raised a miraculous child only to watch him stripped and tortured before her eyes.

 

And this one:

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

A man, who though He was God, allowed Himself to be subjected to ridicule and death for the sake of God’s glory.

 

And we know there are thousands more stories of the helpless and vulnerable, of those seeking God, of good and honest people whose lives were filled violence, calamity and persecution.

 

That grief can be avoided through fervent prayer or good deeds is an enticing myth which woos us to idolatry. But living a life free from the burden of deep sorrow is not possible and probably not even beneficial (though it is still incredibly desirable).

 

Instead the Christian life offers us a divine mystery where we can be both entrenched with grief and still overflowing with abundant joy.  I can rejoice at my one beautiful daughter and even be grateful that I can give her all my attention when she is up at night with a fever and that I still have free arms to hold her in church when she wants me to.  And yet at the same time I ache for a little baby to wake me up at night even when I’m exhausted and to fill my arms when they are empty. I celebrate what God has given me yet  I long, with the rest of creation, for fulfillment, for wholeness, and for healing.

 

This week in our reading group we begin a sad book about hope. Silence by Shusaku Endo takes place in Japan in the 1600’s during a time of Christian persecution. Like the ancient texts of the psalms Silence challenges us to look at our own lives, our practice of faith and to seek out God’s presence and wait for him in His silence.

 

Silence asks us, are we willing to make space in our life for pain? Will this allow us also to know more fully the hope of salvation?  Are we willing to ask the questions?

 

 

 

 

 

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now we beginning Silence by Shusaku Endo. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

For another perspective on suffering and joy check out the latest post at Mothering Spirit