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Having been Inspired by the premier performance of his composition on the same novel, James MacMillan has caused me to finally read Silence by Shusaku Endo.

A reluctant and unresolved Japanese Catholic, Endo tells the story of two seventeenth-century missionaries attempting to shore up the oppressed Japanese Christian movement. Father Rodrigues has come to Japan to find the truth behind unthinkable rumours that his famous teacher Ferreira has renounced his faith. But after his arrival he discovers that the only way to help the brutally persecuted Christians may be to apostatize himself.

Following in a similar vain to Graham Greene’s stunning ’Power and Glory’, this novel is a profound and moving meditation on the Silence of G-d in the face of extreme persecution. It explores the deeper motivations of self-preservation, faith, martyrdom and sacrifice. It raises questions about the motivations of priesthood and challenges squarely the nature of G-d, unearthing the divine as far more mysterious, intriguing, and beguiling than any comforted western mind could comprehend.

This novel, although not trying to ‘do theology’ inevitably reveals the challenges of living out faith in a distinctly different culture, and how the whole notion of faith expression are resolved. To use Endo’s repeated analogy – how does the Sapling of a Hellenistic Christianity survive in the swamp of Japan, with a totally different worldview?

This is a particularly pertinent question, (although obviously different context), for the emerging church. It ultimately asks the same questions about the evolution, or re-storying, of faith for a new cultural milieu.

Intriguingly too, (following a bit of historical research), I was fascinated by the true story of this brutally oppressed church in Japan. And how, after centuries of being underground, many small pockets of ‘Kakure Kirishitan’, (HiddenChristians), finally emerged with a faith far different from an orthodox understanding. They still practice a hidden religion where all symbol and ritual is disguised, and where liturgies now contain a mix of Latin, Portugese, Japanese and made-up words that no-one understands. The faith represents a syncretism of Christian, Buddhist, Shinto and Animist thinking. It’s a poignant and moving situation to think that the desire to retain a faith of integrity in the midst of such persecution has caused the emergence of something quite different from where it began.

It’s an excellent book – unflinching and honest… and it’s uniquely ‘other’ perspective on a weakened and broken Christ is challenging, humbling and profound.

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