It is possible to get through life by skimming over the surface of reality. Most things in the world of advanced modernity subtly push us towards skimming, usually in service to the golden calf of efficiency and productivity. It’s easier and quicker than probing into the depths, patiently uncovering connections and contrasts that are glimpsed only with thoughtful, unhurried observation. The difference is like that between a puddle and a well. Both contain water and may look similar, especially at first glance. In reality though the difference is profound. One is forever shallow, the other deep; one is thin, the other hides layers unseen waiting to be revealed.
On the surface, Silence and Beautyis a book about a classic 1966 novel (Shusaku Endo’s Silence), a powerful 2016 movie (Martin Scorsese’s Silence), art, faith, culture, suffering and the reality of God. As we begin to read, however, we discover we have been invited to dive into a rich exploration of reality, and soon we are seeing all sorts of things that with far greater clarity. It’s not merely that Fujimura asks us to reflect on more things, though it’s true he does touch on 9/11, Hiroshima, Japanese art and culture, the music of Bach, the nature of beauty, the horror of anguish, the way silence speaks of so much so loudly—and much more. It’s not the number of topics Fujimura broaches but his creative ability to weave them together into a rich tapestry for us to appreciate that allows us to see more deeply into our own lives and faith and broken world.
Silence and Beauty is an important book for the evangelical community, though I suspect many will find it discomfiting. We tend to desire expertise not wisdom, answers not questions, certainty not ambiguity, propositions not stories, truth not beauty. But these are the things that Fujimura calls us to embrace.
Hemingway used the title A Movable Feast to describe his Parisian exploits. Christianity is a movable feast as well, transforming how we view ourselves, our marriages, our families, our communities. Christ began his ministry at a wedding in Cana, where in his first recorded miracle he turned water into wine. The Bible begins at a garden and ends in a feast. Thus, a theological map should explore these celebrations as the beginning and ending points of faith. But typically, religious communities are marked by somber legalism, and they avoid the complex nuance of extraordinary wine or art. A complex work of art that may lead to a deeper reflection on human experience and complexity, a work of art such as Silence, will be deemed suspect in such a setting, as its ambiguity strikes many Christians I know as something to be avoided. They might say, “I do not want to have anything to do with failures of faith,” or “To doubt God is to sin.” Endo exposes the flaw in this thinking. It does not express faith in God but instead a faith in clarity and, as one of my friends puts it, “our lust for certainty.” Faith can be rational, but only after a deeper journey toward mystery and transcendence. [p. 82]
I guess I’m suggesting that we should read Silence and Beauty with two things in mind. First, Fujimura will help you appreciate Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s film in ways that most of us likely missed the first time through. He fills in a cultural and theological backstory that few of us know on our own. Read it with friends, in a small group because there is plenty that will prompt conversation and mutual discovery. And second, read Silence and Beauty as a lovely journey, led by a thoughtful artist/theologian toward mystery and transcendence. It is not the full journey we need to take, of course, but it is a reliable and fascinating beginning. In the process your love for Christ, in whom are hidden treasures of silence and beauty, will be deepened.