"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Part 6

Any discussion of this novel should involve its most recurring motif, silence.  Silence comes up in many ways in the story.  First, there are some basic natural silences.  There is the “eerie” silence of the empty village (p. 64) and the silence that hangs when Ferreira is first brought into Rodrigues’ cell (p. 141).  There is the silence of a village when the interrogating guards investigate: “Not a sound could be heard…Why was there no sign of life? Even the barking of the dogs had suddenly come to an end, and Tomogi was like an ancient, abandoned ruin. Yet I could sense the awful silence that enveloped the whole place” (p. 50).  It is interesting to note that Japanese aesthetics tend to be lean and sparse, where more is said by saying less, and the silence motif seems to be attuned to that aesthetic.  You can also see how the plot is lean and direct and absent of any embellishments.  Think of Haiku or other Japanese poetic forms.  They are lean and evocative.  Silence, the absence of sound, fits right into that aesthetic. 

Second, there is the inherent silence of peasants under interrogation:

The peasants stood erect, silent. Men, women, children—all were silent. And so the seconds passed. It was as if enemies were staring at one another. Looking back on it now, I realize that it must have been precisely at this time when everything became silent that we looked down on the village from the mountain.  (p. 51).

Here silence is the unuttered profession one’s identity.  If apostatizing requires spoken expression, silence is the shrewd alternative.

Third, there is the silence of not revealing your fellow Christian to the authorities.  'No, father, we didn't say a word about you,' said Mokichi, hands on knees, 'and if they come again, we'll still say nothing. No matter what happens we'll stand by you.' (p. 50).  Betrayal requires some form of articulation.  Not volunteering or withholding information is a form of silence.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, there is Rodrigues’ exclamation on the silence of God in the face of the peasant’s suffering.  When Kichijiro questions why God has put this suffering on his people, Rodrigues contemplates:

I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijiro was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijiro. (p. 55)

But that’s not exactly what Kichijiro brings up.  He questions why God is allowing this and what “evil” they may have done.  But he does not question God’s existence.  Rodrigues surmises it, and it’s in his mind.  Rodrigues brings up God’s silence repeatedly.  We see it again when Mokichi and Ichizo are crucified by the shore. 

What do I want to say? I myself do not quite understand. Only that today, when for the glory of God Mokichi and Ichizo moaned, suffered and died, I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God....the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent. (p. 61)

What is interesting is that around this silence is a wealth of sound.  There is the sung hymn, “We’re on our way, we’re on our way,/We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise…”  There is the sound of the rain, the sound of the waves (“it broke upon the ears,” and the sound of the Mokichi moaning, a “dark moaning” (p. 59). 

The moaning sometimes ceased. Mokichi had not even the strength to encourage himself with a hymn like that of yesterday. Yet after an hour of silence the voice was again brought to the ears of the people by the wind. Hearing this sound, like that of an animal, the peasants trembled and wept. In the afternoon the tide gradually comes in again; the black, cold color of the sea deepens; the stakes seem to sink into the water. The white foaming waves, swirling past the stakes, break on the sand, a white bird, skimming over the surface of the sea, flies far, far away. And with this all is over. (p. 59)

While Rodrigues insists on the silence, we see otherwise.  Another example is when Rodrigues is on the run.  He hears “the hoarse cawing of pursuing crows,” sees his face in a pool of water, which he imagines to be a face of Christ crucified, and hears the cicadas “singing hoarsely” in the woods (p. 67-8).  Rodrigues again questions God’s silence.

But now there arose up within my heart quite suddenly the sound of the roaring sea as it would ring in my ears when Garrpe and I lay alone in hiding on the mountain. The sound of those waves that echoed in the dark like a muffled drum; the sound of those waves all night long, as they broke meaninglessly, receded, and then broke again on the shore. This was the sea that relentlessly washed the dead bodies of Mokichi and Ichizo, the sea that swallowed them up, the sea that, after their death, stretched out endlessly with unchanging expressions. And like the sea God was silent. His silence continued. (p. 68)

What silence?  There are sounds all over.  And here we arrive at one of the central ironies in the novel.  Rodrigues is of the Jesuit orders.  The Jesuits are known for their discernments.  The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola—the founder of the Society of Jesus—are meant to be a means of discernment of God in our lives.  That a Jesuit cannot discern God is meant to be an irony.  Right in front of him in the water is the face of Christ and he doesn’t discern it.  And, by extension, the sounds of animals and nature can be seen as God’s voice.

And here I want to digress.  Silence is a Japanese novel written by a Japanese author.  It is unfortunate for me that I do not know Japanese culture well.  I think one should to fully appreciate this novel.  It’s not just the history, which no doubt is very important in an historical novel, but also the aesthetics, the literary allusions, the cultural memes, especially inherently the symbols.  There is a high degree of allusiveness in Japanese literature and art, probably due to its very leanness.  Less is said, but what is said is amplified by cultural and literary allusions and symbols.  In addition, the ancient Shinto and imported Buddhist religions naturally supply imagery and allusions.  Both Shinto and Buddhism have an element of animism in it, meaning that animals and nature are infused with spirits.  From Shinto, Kami https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kami are spirits in nature and they can be deities, dead people, or apparently natural forces.  Insects for instance are typically symbols for the spirits.  In the novel we recurring patterns of ocean and mountains and trees and frequently we see cicadas, flies, butterflies, and even a cockroach.  Endo is placing these right in front of Rodrigues.  These form the supernatural right in front of Rodrigues, God’s voice calling.  There is a single moment where Rodrigues almost discerns it, when he is in prison.

At night, as he sat in the dark listening to the sound of the turtle-dove in the trees, he felt the face of Christ looking intently at him. The clear blue eyes were gentle with compassion; the features were tranquil; it was a face filled with trust. 'Lord, you will not cast us away any longer,' he whispered, his eyes fixed upon that face. And then the answer seemed to come to his ears: 'I will not abandon you.' Bowing his head he strained his ears for the sound of that voice again; but the only thing he could hear was the singing of the turtle-dove. The darkness was thick and black. Yet the priest felt that for one instant his heart had been purified. (p. 106)

A dove is the symbol for the Holy Spirit!  That is about as clear an indication that nature and its sounds are voices from God.  And we know that God has been speaking to Rodrigues all along because he tells us in hindsight at the end of the novel:

Everything that had taken place until now had been necessary to bring him [Rodrigues] to this love. 'Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent. (p. 191)

It’s at the climax of the novel we see God speaking with His loudest voice.  Rodrigues in a new cell hears what he thinks is snoring, and after a while it grates on his nerves.  “That’s not snoring,” Ferreira tells him.  “That is the moaning of the Christians hanging in the pit” (p. 160).  The moaning links back to the “dark moaning” of Mokichi being crucified.  Notice there the other peasants try to relive his suffering as best they can.  At the climax Rodrigues is placed in a semi-existential circumstance, and here is where I think Existentialism comes in the novel.  He is willing to die for his “glorious martyrdom,” an act of egotism, but that is not the option placed before him.  What his soul most resists is apostatizing.  What is placed before him is the suffering voice of the tortured peasants, and he has to apostatize to relieve them.  Years before Ferreira was faced with the same situation.

'I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men hanging in the pit.' And even as Ferreira finished speaking, the voices like snoring, now high, now low, were carried to their ears. But now the priest was aware of the truth. It was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit. (p. 167)

The voices of the suffering is the voice of God.  That is what Rodrigues realizes later when he concludes “God had not been silent.”  It was for him to answer the call.  It is one thing to lose one’s faith, but where does Rodrigues get the notion that God will come out of the sky and alter the situation?  In an almost parallel historical situation Christians had to face persecution and hide secretly in the catacombs for almost 250 years under ancient Roman rule.  God doesn’t work that way, and it’s naïve to think He would.  Of all the martyrs in the world (and we have almost daily today in the Christian world) God has never stepped out of the sky directly.  I am reminded of the great prayer of St. Teresa of Ávila:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

That is the lesson that Rodrigues had to learn.  He has to listen to God’s call and work His work.  The peasants inherently knew this at Mokichi’s crucifixion.  Rodrigues finally learned it at the pit. 

In one of the novel’s many ironies, we see that the Japanese peasants intuitively know Christianity better than Rodrigues the priest.  When Mokichi and Ichizo are dying on the cross and they let out their moans, the Christian peasants come out to relieve their suffering.  When Kochijiro questions God, coward though he may be, it never leads to a loss of faith.  Even until the end he is a believer, though he apostatizes many times.  Rodrigues is the only one who loses faith.  When Rodrigues is captured and placed with several other Christian prisoners, the woman, though they are all haggard and starving, offers the priest a cucumber to eat, and she doesn’t pull it from a pocket; she pulls it from her bosom (p. 81), that is to say she takes it from her heart.  This is an allusion to John 15:5, where Christ says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  Cucumbers are fruits of a vine, and here the woman is the branch stemming from Christ the vine and the cucumber is the fruit of Christian charity.  What a touching scene.  The woman is doing the work of Christ, the very thing Rodrigues has to learn to do.  Since the cucumber is pulled out of her bosom, Rodrigues must feel her body warmth—Christian love—as he eats it.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Photo Essay: 59th Street Pier (And Update on Mom)

First the update on mom.  She was transferred to the Rehab Facility across the street from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon.  Wednesday she had her first full day of rehab exercises, and now they pretty much exercise them morning and afternoon.  Eight years ago when she fractured the other hip and had it replaced the rehab stay was a month and the exercise was once a day. 

It’s not clear to me whether she was extra sore or just routine sore, and I’m not sure if they gave her extra pain killers or just the prescribed dosage but she was given Oxycodone.  Her medical list says she’s supposed to get 5 mg and from what I gathered they gave her 10 mg.  On Thursday—my birthday of all days—I got a call at work from the rehab facility that she was disoriented and non-responsive and that they had to send her to the emergency room. I spent a good part of my day into the evening at the hospital. As it turned out, she either had a bad reaction to medicine or they accidentally over dosed her. When I got to the hospital her blood pressure was down to nil and she was incoherent. To make a long story short, they stabilized her by the end of the night, she was sleeping soundly, and all her vitals were normal. They even sent her back to the rehab facility, and on Friday, the next day, she was great, perfectly normal. I was astounded actually. I didn't know how I would find her this morning. She didn't even have a hangover, and she did her rehab exercises.  Doctor has given the instruction she is to never get oxycodone.  She will have to tough it out with only Tylenol. 

Here’s the photo essay.  My mother is staying at Lutheran Medical Center, which is in Brooklyn, NY, one avenue from the NY Harbor and three additional blocks from the 59th street pier.  While taking a walk around, I discovered it.  I had heard of it, but never went to it.  It has a great view of the harbor.  Apparently there’s a fast ferry that stops there for commuters.  So yesterday I took my camera and clicked off a few shots.

As you approach the pier.

There was an interesting looking tug boat docked there.

The pier was surprisingly long.  It had to be a good quarter mile.

As you walk to the end, you can see the harbor.  That’s New Jersey on the left and Manhattan from the center to the right.  Somehow the camera zoomed out makes it look farther than it really is.

Here’s a really good shot of Manhattan looking at it from the south.  This is ore how it looks with the naked eye.

And here’s a zoomed in view of the southern Manhattan skyline.  The tall building is the new Liberty Tower that replaced the Twin Towers.

And finally the best picture of all when I really zoomed in was the Statue of Liberty.

Unfortunately from my angle I got that lousy New Jersey building in the background.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Personal Note: Update on My Mother’s Hip Replacement

I owe you all an update.  Friday she had her hip replacement.  Surgeon said “it went beautifully.”  So I take it the surgical part has gone well. 

Later than evening when the anesthesia wore off, she was in severe pain.  She was in agony actually.  They gave her oxycodone, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.  Not only that, the contraption that they put over the bed for hobbling patients (see image) to lift themselves fell apart when she pulled on it and one of the support bars came off and hit her on the leg that had just been operated.  Ultimately they had to give her morphine.

Over the weekend she improved.  They had her up and even had her walk with a walker for some twenty feet.  She was to get discharged today, Monday, but they held back.  Her blood pressure has been very low, and I just figured out why for the nurses.  She takes a blood pressure medication to raise her blood pressure, Midodrine.  She has the opposite of blood pressure issues than most people.  It’s too low from orthostatic hypo tension.  The medication lifts her pressure, but when I read the details it says that a patient should not take it if they are bedridden.  It’s plays havoc on her blood pressure.  So hopefully they will either change the dosage because she is bedridden or get her on her feet more. 

So that’s where we are.  She’s doing well, but delayed from going over to rehab.  Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.  It's most appreciated.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: St. Catherine of Siena and Jesus as Thou

I’m always willing to pass on some wonderful tidbit about the patron saint of this blog, St. Catherine of Siena.  BishopRobert Barron, who seems to be everywhere in the Catholic media, wrote an article on why we should refer to Jesus in the formal, archaic thou, and apparently it was inspired by how St. Catherine referred to Jesus while praying.  Here’s what he wrote:

On the final morning of the November meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we were treated to a fine sermon by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. The leader of the church in Seattle spent a good deal of time discussing Pier Giorgio Frassati, a saint from the early twentieth century to whom he and I both have a strong devotion. But what particularly struck me in his homily was a reference to the great St. Catherine of Siena. One of the most remarkable things about that remarkable woman was the intimacy which she regularly experienced with Mary, the saints, and the Lord Jesus himself. Archbishop Sartain relayed a story reported by Catherine’s spiritual director, Raymond of Capua. According to Raymond, Catherine would often recite the office while walking along a cloister in the company of Jesus, mystically visible to the saint. When she came to the conclusion of a psalm, she would, according to liturgical custom, speak the words of the Glory Be, but her version was as follows, “Glory be to the Father, and to Thee, and to the Holy Ghost!” For her, Christ was not a distant figure, and prayer was not an abstract exercise. Rather, the Lord was at her side, and prayer was conversation between friends.

Archbishop Sartain invited us to muse on Catherine’s use of the intimate form of the pronoun, in her Latin tibi (to you), and rightly rendered in English as “to Thee.” As is the case with many other languages, Latin distinguishes between more formal and more informal use of the second person pronoun, and it is the familiar “tu” that Catherine employs when speaking to Jesus. It is an oddity of the evolution of spoken English that today “thou, thine, thy, and thee” seem more rarified, more regal and distant, when in fact just the contrary was the case up until fairly modern times. These were the words used to address family members, children, and intimate friends, in contradistinction to the more formal “you” and “yours.” How wonderful, Archbishop Sartain reminded us, that this intimate usage is preserved in some of our most beloved prayers. We say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” and we pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Again, I realize that to our ears, this language sounds less rather than more intimate, but it is in fact meant to convey the same easy familiarity with the Father and the Blessed Mother that Catherine of Siena enjoyed with Christ.

Yes, St. Catherine visibly saw Jesus often, and how funny she would say “Glory be to the Father, and to Thee, and to the Holy Ghost!”  I could see her nodding her to Jesus and saying, “to Thee.” 

To read the other reasons for referring to Jesus as thou you can find the article at his Word on Fire website, here.  

One last thing.  Today is my mother’s hip replacement surgery.  Say a little prayer for a successful outcome, and I’ll appeal to St. Catherine of Siena, patron saint of nurses, to also pray for my mom.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Personal Note: My Mother’s Hip Replacement Surgery

Just a personal note.  I’ve mentioned my mother a few times on my blog.  On Friday my mother will be going for hip replacement surgery.  This is her second hip to be replaced.  Eight years ago she fractured her left hip in a fall, and while they tried to screw it together (in the x-ray you could see a screw hold bone together like a screw holds together wood) but it didn’t hold and ultimately she had to have it replaced.  This time age and arthritis have her left her right hip bone on bone in the socket, so that she is now hobbling in pain.  It started just a few months ago  and day by day you can see the reduction in mobility and increase in pain.  When the orthopedist saw the x-ray he was shocked that she was even walking at all.  It will be the same orthopedic surgeon on Friday that did her left hip.  The x-rays also showed that her left hip replacement was still in excellent shape.  We were very happy with this orthopedist.  My only concern is that now she is 83 years old.  That’s advanced for such a major operation, at least in my mind.  But the doctors, including her cardiologist, find her age not to be an issue, and she has passed the pre-op testing with flying colors.  Her blood test didn’t have a single category outside of normal.  Her cholesterol was 156.  She’s in great shape for her age, but I am still worried.  Say a small prayer for her.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cool Video: Heartwarming Christmas Ad

I’ve been so delinquent with my blog lately.  I used to have filler posts between posts with more substance, but I’ve gotten out of the habit.  I’m not sure if the handful of people who read my blogs care, but I do feel I should post something every so often.  Here’s a nice occasion for one.  This is a Christmas advertisement.  I’m not even sure what it’s for, but it’s really cute and heartwarming.  I hope you enjoy it.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, and try to put Christ into the Christmas season.  Actually, don’t just try; do it.