In Silence, Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit missionaries in Japan during the 17th century, there comes a point where the story shifts abruptly from first person to third.
At the end of Chapter 4, Kichijiro betrays Fr. Rodrigues and hands him over to his captors. The reader then finds a sudden switch from Rodrigues’ points of view to a third party account of his experiences at the onset of Chapter 5:
While he was being dragged here children and adults alike, dressed in rags, had kept staring at him with glimmering eyes like animals from between the thatch-roofed huts. (79)
Certainly, this literary tactic is not unheard of and not even unusual. But it is always deliberate on the part of the author, and therefore worthy of examination.
In W.H. Vanstone’s book, The Stature of Waiting, he discusses this very literary style as it plays out in the Gospels of Mark and John. Leading up to Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas, his life and works are described with Jesus as an active initiator; with phrases like, “He asked,” “He rebuked,” “He began to teach,” etc. When Jesus is handed over to the soldiers, this active language halts. “From this point onwards,” Vanstone writes, “Jesus is, in a grammatical sense, the subject of just nine verbs, whereas He is the object, direct or indirect, His ‘action’ is either negative or indecisive […] Jesus is no longer the one who does — He becomes the one who is done to.” (22-23)
In the Gospels and in Silence, this perspective shift, in the very least, heightens the meaning of arrest or captivity. When we read Silence with this overlay borrowed from the Gospels (though I do not know the intentionality there on Endo’s part), we also see Rodrigues’ captivity as a rendering of Christ’s experience on some level.
Beyond these literary outcomes, the general idea of a movement from active to passive, illustrated in both texts, is worthy of a deeper look. This can be done in our own lives. Our society demands and rewards action from its members. Perhaps more than ever, partly at the hands of technology, we are faced with a culture that has little to no regard for contemplation or stillness. While reflecting on Christ’s ‘handing over,’ I considered the possibility of virtue that lies in a more passive state of being.
It is, perhaps, in the midst of betrayal or hardship, that we are most often forced to face our alone-ness, to be met with a disorienting state of passivity, to find ourselves faced with inaction and a loss of control. These are some of the most uncomfortable moments that we face. But they are also full of opportunity for new depth in our faith.
Our passive waiting is played out in Advent and in Lent. There is immense value in our waiting, and additional value to be found in a state of stillness, however disorienting it might seem. Let us know the state of “being done to,” as Christ did.
For in these moments, suddenly, anything could happen to you.