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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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

 


 

The Liturgy of Life Five Minute a Day Silence Challenge

If you have been reading along with us in Beginning to Pray then you have probably gotten the sense that silence is important when it comes to prayer.

This idea stands in contradiction to our often noisy lives. For most of us it is easy to go days  without a moment of silence.

We wake up to an alarm and then flip on the TV.  We rush to get everyone up and dressed and then make a quick call as we walk out the door with the phone to our ear.  The radio is on while driving to work and then we arrive to a workplace filled with people. Even when it is quiet around us our thoughts are racing, computers are buzzing and the phone is ringing. On the way home it is the same thing, maybe now we have kids in the car arguing or singing. If we manage to shut off the TV before dinner it is usually back on by bed time and we are lulled to sleep by the evening news.

Only to start the whole thing over again the next day.

Even with an intentionally quiet lifestyle, let’s say no TV and working from a quiet home office, silence is still elusive.  There may be less noise, but that isn’t all that Bloom is describing.

The silence that we are talking about is a shutting off of the noises around us, and more importantly, the noises within us.

I’ve only been inside of my own head, so yours may be different. But my mind is constantly in motion. It circles from what I have to do today, to the argument I had last night, the discussion I need to have tomorrow, my hopes for our next house, my fears, my doubts, it does not stop.

We are all creatures of habit and our minds love a pattern. We typically do the same thing every day. In my morning I wake up, lay in bed for a while, then get up, make tea, and sit on the couch and have some reading time. Your routine is probably different but you have one and when it is thrown off you notice.  And though we can choose to change our patterns, each day that we continue them further sets the routine in our minds. So when we decide to start the day off with a jog instead of a cup of coffee it is initially really difficult, but if we can get ourselves to stick with it for a few weeks it begins to feel second nature as a new pattern is established.

Our thoughts are no different. There are patterns of thoughts, some of them negative, others positive, some of them a waste of time and others absolutely essential. Our thoughts remind us of our place and purpose in the world. But our thoughts are mainly focused on. . . you guessed it . . . ourselves, on us, on me.  So that to pry our minds out of this cycle, to learn to sit and listen to God, something we were in fact created to do, becomes a strain.  I find it incredibly exhausting.

Bloom, along with many of the church fathers, is clear that practicing silence is important. Shutting off our thoughts and being intentionally quiet  is the first step in listening to God.

Now I have just dabbled with this before, I am no expert. If you want someone who really knows what they are talking about you can go to structured silent retreat.  These are often offered at monasteries and different Christian retreat centers. I would love to do this and I suggest you do it. too But if you can’t get to something more instructive I  am going to share an exercise that I think is consistent with the Bloom’s suggestions and is something I have practiced before and am doing again, as of last night.

The Liturgy of Life Five Minute per Day Silence Challenge

Set a timer to go off at the same time every day, mine is 9 pm, by then I am usually home and Zenie is settled down. Set another timer for five minutes later so for me 9:05 pm.

Select a short reading. I am doing the 23rd psalm because I have it mostly memorized and I think it is beautiful.   The Lord’s prayer would be another good passage.  You may want to write your passage down on a note card or something you can keep with you (a non-digital version is best).  Select a reasonably comfortable and quiet spot (not so comfy that you fall asleep, no TV or music that will distract you).

When the alarm goes off stop what you are doing. Right then, just stop and leave it.  Read your reading, preferably out loud. Read carefully and intentionally. Don’t let your mind wander during the reading. Think only about what you are saying. This should take 1-2 minutes.

Then in the last few minutes just sit quietly. You can look around, notice the things around you, breathe slowly and calmly. You may notice the sounds around you or the draft in the room.   But don’t let yourself start day-dreaming or planning or analyzing or anything, just notice your space and yourself and be present.

If you are like me within about 2 seconds (really probably half a second) you are in the midst of a mental and spiritual battle. Be prepared. Use a simple prayer, either a phrase from your reading or the Jesus prayer to bring you back. I usually say to myself “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy of me,” or something simple like “I am here and God is here with me,” or “Thank you Jesus.” Don’t let yourself go on and on in prayer. Use the prayer to bring you back into focus and then resume sitting quietly.  Remember this is time to listen not to speak.

My timer actually went off while I was typing this. The minutes felt very long. I found myself battling thoughts like “when is this going to be over?” and “I need to make sure to include this in my post.” Every second is a battle. But it is a worthwhile fight to gain control over my thoughts so that I can truly submit them to God. And so that I actually can be quiet and hear God if He decides to speak to me in a whisper.

This is a discipline and like all disciplines it takes time.  So don’t be discouraged and don’t get exhausted. Please  hold me accountable in this and feel free to share your experiences, We would love to hear them.