Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is a difficult book to categorize. It is, in part, an answer to the problem of evil, part an examination of Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, part cross-cultural dialogue between Western Christianity and Japan, and part a work of art criticism. It is, in my opinion, itself a work of beauty that inspires much reflection.
Fujimura’s major reflections center around Shusaku Endo’s classic, Silence. An appendix at the end of the book provides a summary of Silence that is pretty deep, so readers who haven’t read the novel can read and appreciate this book regardless. Of course Fujimura strongly urges readers to carefully read Silence, and I’d echo that sentiment, as Endo’s work is one of the most profound explorations of faith I have ever read. The basics are that a missionary arrives in Japan, where major persecution of Christians is currently occurring. One of the central images–figuratively and literally–in the book is that of the fumi-e, which is an image of Christ that the Japanese believers are required to trample upon in order to renounce their faith and demonstrate allegiance with Japan rather than foreign faith.
Fujimura continually returns to this image–the fumi-e–as an image of betrayal, hiddenness of God, and beauty. The novel Silence constantly asks the question: Why is God silent through this suffering? This leads Fujimura to reflection upon what it means to say God is silent, as well as the meaning of apostasy and faith. His reflections are often poetic–not literally, but the way he writes is beautiful and lyrical. He leads readers to deeper thought rather than providing immediate answers.
Another major aspect of Silence and Beauty is the unity of arts and faith. Fujimura is a renowned artist who utilizes ancient Japanese techniques to create modern art. Several of his–and other–works are featured in color in a set of plates towards the middle of the book. I found his reflection upon these and other artworks to be fascinating, and to demonstrate how the visual arts are extremely important in a life of faith. Even more intriguingly, however, he also points to how art and the image of the fumi-e may not be easily understood in a Western context.
At last, this leads us to the third major aspect of the book, which is that Japanese culture and Western culture are different. Yes, this seems a no-brainer, but Fujimura, who has straddled the line between these cultures for his entire life, approaches it from an insider’s perspective on both sides, demonstrating how blithe dismissal of certain symbolic aspects in the West does not do justice to the importance of those same ideas in Japan. This, he argues, is part of the way that Christians have been talking past the Japanese in a culture that, at some times in history, was considered prime territory for seeds of faith to grow. Fujimura issues a call for better evangelistic efforts to Japan, as well as a cry for those in the West to try to come to a fuller understanding of Japanese culture and history.
Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is an amazing book that fuses multiple disciplines and ideas together into a wonderfully readable, thought-provoking whole. I recommend it highly.
+Integrates arts seamlessly into narratives
+Full of anecdotes with direct application
+Careful and thought-provoking examination of the problem of evil
+Cross-cultural insights are fair and substantive
+Exposes readers to many new ideas
-More subdued in some conclusions than necessary
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Makoto Fujimura Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).
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