Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Yes, and that on this, the most important night of his whole life, he should be disturbed by such a vile and discordant noise – this realization suddenly filled him with rage. He felt that his life was simply being trifled with; and when the groaning ceased for a moment, he began to beat on the wall. But the guards, like those who in Gethsemane slept in utter indifference to the torment of that man, did not get up. Again he began to beat wildly on the wall. Then there came the noise of the door being opened, and from the distance the sound of feet hastening rapidly towards the place that he was.

‘Father, what is wrong? What is wrong?’ It was the interpreter who spoke; and his voice was that of a cat play with its prey. ‘It’s terrible, terrible! Isn’t it better for you not to be so stubborn? If you simply say, “I apostatize,” all will be well. Then you will be able to let your strained mind relax and be at ease.’

‘It’s only that snoring,’ answered the priest through the darkness.

Suddenly the interpreter became silent as if in astonishment. ‘You think that is snoring.  .  . that is.  .  . Sawano, did you hear what he said? He thought that sound was snoring!’

The priest had not known that Ferreiras standing beside the interpreter. ‘Sawano, tell him what it is!’

The priest heard the voice of Ferreira, that voice he had heard every day long ago – it was low and pitiful. ‘That’s not snoring. That is the moaning of Christians hanging in the pit’. . .

Inside  the cell there came not the faintest sound. Only the pitch darkness where the priest now lay huddle up and through which it seemed impossible to penetrate.
‘I was here just like you.’ Ferreira uttered the words distinctly, separating the syllable from one another. ‘I was imprisoned here, and that night was darker and colder than any night in my life.’

The priest leaned his head heavily against the wooden wall and listened vaguely to the old man’s words. Even without the old man’s saying so, he knew that that night had been blacker than any before. The problem was not this; the problem was that he must not be defeated by Ferreira’s temptings – the tempting of Ferreira who had been shut up in the darkness just like himself and was now enticing him to follow the same path.

‘I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men handing 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. I was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit.

While he had been squatting here in the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this, he had uttered no prayer; he had laughed. The very thought bewildered him completely. He had thought the sound of that voice ludicrous, and he had laughed aloud. He had believed in his pride that he alone in this night was sharing in the suffering of that man [Jesus]. But here just beside him were people who were sharing in that suffering much more than he. Why this craziness, murmured a voice not his own. And you call yourself a priest! A priest who takes upon himself the sufferings of others! ‘Lord, until this moment have you been mocking me?, he cried aloud.

“Laudate Eum [Praise Him]! I engraved those letters on the wall,’ Ferreira repeated. ‘Can’t you find them? Look again!’
“I know!’ The priest, carried away by anger, shouted lauder than ever before. ‘Keep quiet!’ he said. “You have no right to speak to me like this.’

‘I have no right? That is certain. I have no right. Listening to those groans all night I was no longer able to give praise to the Lord. I did not apostatize because I was suspended in the pit. For three days, I who stand before you was hung in a pit of foul excrement, but I did not say a single word that might betray my God.’ Ferreira raised a voice that was like a growl as he shouted: ‘The reason I apostatized . . .are you ready? Listen! I was out in here and heard the voices of those people for who God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength; but God did nothing.’
‘Be quiet!’
‘Alright. Pray! But those Christians are partaking of a terrible suffering such as you cannot even understand. From yesterday – in the future –now at this very moment. Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them. And God, he does nothing either.’

The priest shook his head wildly, putting both fingers into his ears. But the voice of Ferreira together with the groaning of the Christians broke mercilessly in Stop! Stop! Lord, it is now that you should break the silence. You must not remain silent. Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.

A great shadow passed over his soul like that of the great wings of a bird flying over the mast of a ship. The wings of the bird now brought to his mind the memory of the various ways in which the Christians had died. At that time, to, God had been silent. When the misty rain floated over the sea, he was silent. When the one-eyed man had been killed beneath the blazing rays of the sun, he had said nothing. But at that time  the Priest had been able to stand it; or, rather than stand it, he had been able to thrust the terrible doubt far from the threshold of his mind. But no it was different. Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?

‘Now they are in that courtyard’ (it was the sorrowful voice of Ferreira that whispered to him.) ‘There unfortunate Christians are hanging. They have been hanging there since you came here.’

The old man was telling no lie. As he strained his ears the groaning that had seemed to be that of a single voice suddenly revealed itself as a double one- groaning was high (it never became low): the high voice and the low voice were mingled with one another, coming from different persons.

‘When I spent that night here five people were suspended in the pit. Five voices were carried to my ears on the wind. The official said: “If you apostatize, those people will immediately be taken out of the pit, their bonds will be loosed, and we will put medicine on their wounds.” I answered: “why do not these people not apostatize?” And the official laughs as he answered me: “They have already apostatized many times. But as long as you don’t apostatize these peasants cannot be saved.”’

‘And you .  .  .’ The priest spoke through his tears. ‘You should have prayed .  .  . .’

‘I did pray. I kept on praying. But prayer did nothing to alleviate their suffering. Behind their ears a small incision was made; the blood drips slowly through the incision and through the nose and mouth. I know it well, because I experienced the same suffering in my own body. Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering.’

The priest remembered how at Saishoji when he first met Ferreira he had noticed a scar like a burn on his temples. He remembered the brown color of the wound and now the whole scene rose p behind huis eyelids. To chase away the imagination he kept banging his head against the wall. ‘In return for these earthly sufferings, those people will receive a reward of eternal joy,’ he said.

‘Don’t deceive yourself!’ said Ferreira. ‘Don’t disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words.’

’ My weakness? The priest shook his head; yet he had no self-confidence. ‘What do you mean? It’s because I believe in the salvation of these people . . .?’

‘You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refused to do so. It’s because you dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.’ Until now Ferreira’s words out as a single breath of anger, but now his voice gradually weakened as he aid: “Yet I am the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest out to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here .  .  .’

For a moment Ferreira remained silent; then he suddenly broke out in a strong voice: ‘Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.’

Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light.
‘Christ would have certainly have apostatized to help men.’

‘No, no!’ said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. ‘No, no!”
‘ For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.’
‘Stop tormenting me! Go away, away’ shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened – and the white light of morning flooded into the room.

‘You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,’ said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.

Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains – and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentler light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls. . .

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