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Jesuit Mystic William Johnston Passes Away

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Jesuit Mystic William Johnston Passes Away

مُساهمة من طرف شاعر في الأربعاء 12 سبتمبر 2012, 11:57 pm

Jesuit Mystic William Johnston Passes Away

This morning (Oct. 12, 2010) I received the news that Fr. William
Johnston, S.J., author, translator, mystical theologian, and
sought-after preacher, passed away at Loyola House, where he had been
cared for. Bill, as we used to call him, had been sick for nearly two
years, since the time he had a stroke, towards the end of the annual
retreat he was making at the Kamishakujii Jesuit Residence. Luckily,
someone found him and took him to a hospital, where he had an urgent
operation and his life was saved. I wrote 'Luckily,' but perhaps he
himself might have said, 'Unluckily,' for he loathed being bed-ridden
and unable to speak. Although his life was spared, he could not speak
for nearly two years--though some visitors felt he understood what was
said and showed some signs of recognition.

Bill was much senior
to me, and although we had met frequently, we never had close personal
exchanges until the late 1990s, when a Toshiba Satellite brought us
together. He had just returned from the United States, where someone
had very strongly urged him to buy a computer and use it for writing.
So he arrived in Tokyo, proudly owning a Toshiba laptop, and asked
several people to help him. Almost everyone gave up, and then Bill came
to me and said, "You are going to help me write my next book in a
computer. Everything is set, for I got the computer with the help of an
expert. All you have to do is to help me start." So I went to his
room and examined the computer, and immediately realized why nobody was
able to help him.

The computer was quite simply a 'lemon':
(1) It was an old model, with a very small amount of RAM memory, and
basically a DOS machine into which some old version of Windows had been
installed. (2) It was a U.S. model, entirely in English. (3) It had no
CD or DVD drive, either internal or external. (4) It had absolutely no
application software. And (5) it had no printer. Bill couldn't even
understand why nobody would teach him to write his next book in this
wonderful 'new' machine. The problems, however, were nearly
insurmountable: In Japan, especially in the 1990s, there was very little
support for non-Japanese Computers, and so nobody, not even Toshiba,
was willing to solve problems of a computer bought in USA. As the
computer had no CD drive, there was no way to install any software
programs, most of which were then available only on CD-ROMs. Moreover,
in Japan only Japanese or bilingual software was available, but his
computer won't take anything other than English! Most of the printers
sold in Japan weren't suitable for an English PC either, and there were
other problems related to cables, connectors, and so on. It took me
nearly two weeks to make the 'lemon' somewhat useful as I managed to
install a DOS version of Word Perfect 5.1 (English) and find a printer
that could be connected to his Toshiba.

Then I started
instructing Bill on how to use the PC, and he was one of the most
diligent and humble students. Following my instructions, he always
wrote down the basic steps I taught him and never tried to learn more
than he could digest. He was neither curious nor eager to explore the
Internet, and so he limited himself to using the computer only as a
typewriter. Very soon, he started writing his first book on the laptop,
and there were, as may be expected, many critical times when he
practically lost whole chapters or didn't know where they went! My
visits to his room were regular and frequent, and several times I
brought back 'miraculously' (in his eyes!) some of the Chapters which he
thought he had lost forever. Finally, the book was completed, and
although I was away on sabbatical, he managed to have it printed and
published with the help of others--under the title of "Arise, my
Love...," the very first book he wrote using a computer!

our Satellite get-togethers, we began to meet more frequently especially
over a cup of coffee around 9:30 AM. Frankly, I was more like a
sounding board or devil's advocate than like a fan or disciple. We have
discussed all sorts of topics about persons, state of the Church, state
of Religious Life, theology, future of religions, sex, celibacy, sexual
maturity of celibates, atheism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., etc., and
frequently we were more in disagreement than in agreement. Of course,
all our discussions usually ended up peacefully, and even when we parted
in disagreement, we would meet again to continue the discussion, when
he would say that he had changed his mind or that I was biased.
Actually, he would sometimes say that I was ultra-conservative appearing
as a liberal and at other times say that I was ultra-liberal appearing
as a conservative. Overall, he enjoyed the challenges I put before him,
and, actually, he wanted to be challenged, for challenges helped him
develop his inchoate ideas.

Bill upset some people with his
autobiography, "Mystical Journey: An Autobiography," which they found to
be too frank and too revealing. He was quite excited when writing it,
and would often say that it would be shocking to readers. I would often
provoke him by saying, "Come on Bill, now at your age, you can be
honest enough to write anything and everything! No need to be fuzzy or
vague. Tell us clearly what you think and reveal yourself fully!" As a
good Jesuit, he gave copies of the pre-published manuscript to other
senior Jesuits for feedback, and occasionally modified it. Overall he
was pleased with the reception he got for his autobiography, which urged
him to start another autobiographical project. Meanwhile he had got a
new desktop computer and was eagerly working on his new project. He
used to tell me that his new book would be even more revealing and
shocking to people, and that he would be sending parts of it to persons
he could confide in.

It was at this stage that one of the
promising Jesuits of Japan, Roger Downey, wound up in a Tokyo hospital,
suffering excruciating pain due to his throat cancer. As the doctors,
both in USA and in Japan, had given up on him, he was simply waiting for
the inevitable, being tenderly cared for by the nurses but unable to
speak or move freely. Johnston would regularly go to see him, and often
tell others of the pain that Roger courageously suffered. The painful
last days of Roger touched Johnston so deeply that he often prayed for
Roger's early death and wished that his own life would not be prolonged
artificially if ever he had to end up in bed like Roger. He often said
that he wanted to die quietly and quickly, without being placed in a
medical facility for too long. Paradoxically, soon after Roger's death a
stroke paralyzed Johnston, and what he most disliked, he had to go
through--perhaps in a mental state that was much less lucid than that of

William Johnston was born on July 30, 1925, in Belfast, Northern
Ireland. His childhood memories were colored by the 'religious' wars
then prevalent in Northern Ireland. His family later moved to
Liverpool, and he entered the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1943.
He arrived in Japan as a missionary in 1951, all set to convert the
Japanese to Christianity. Gradually, however, he got interested in
mysticism, Buddhism (especially Zen), and interreligious understanding.
He was especially touched by the pioneering interreligious activities
of Fr. Enomiya Lasalle, S.J., of whom he wrote: "I see Lassalle as a
prophet of the twentieth century, ranking beside Thomas Merton and Bede
Griffiths." After his theological studies in Kamishakujii, Japan, he
was ordained a Priest on March 24, 1957.

In 1958, Fr. Johnston
left by ship from Yokohama for Rome, where he tried to pursue his
studies at the Gregorian for a short period of six months. Though his
stay there was short, he underwent substantial changes in his character
and outlook, thanks to the persons he met there. Recalling his
experiences, he writes: "Those seven years [in Japan] had changed me
completely; but my short stay in Rome would change me even more. It was
nothing short of a revolution in my life." His next major stop was Lumen Vitae,
the Catechetical Institute in Brussels, where he studied for another
six months. It was here that he entrenched himself deeper into studies
of mysticism and was exposed to various Asian and exotic mystic
traditions, such as the TM (Transcendental Meditation) of the Indian
Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

After a brief detour in New
York, Johnston returned in 1960 to Japan to teach at Sophia University.
Having no higher academic degrees, he felt uncomfortable for some time,
but then after browsing through a copy of The Cloud of Unknowing,
he decided to write a doctoral thesis on that book which, he felt,
mesmerized him. His doctoral thesis was successfully completed under
the direction of Fr. Tony Evangelista, and was published with an
introduction by the eminent Thomas Merton, under the title of The Mysticism of "The Cloud of Unknowing."
Regarding the success of this book, Johnston himself says, "After
forty years, it is still in print with Fordham University Press and some
people have told me it is my best book. I don't agree. But they say

His next major project was the translation of Endo Shusaku's Chinmoku
'Silence,' which he did against much Jesuit opposition (because the
novel dealt with a Jesuit apostate!). Although not a professional
translator, Fr. Johnston did an excellent job of translating, and,
thanks to his translation, many people around the world came to know who
Endo Shusaku was. His translation was critically acclaimed and is
still being sold. With rumors floating around that a Hollywood movie
will be made of the novel Silence, one may expect Johnston's
translation to be on the market for some more years. Endo and Johnston
remained good friends, and Johnston officiated at the memorial Mass for

Johnston's illustrious career includes numerous books on mysticism and mystical theology, such as The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism , Silent Music, Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion, Mystical Theology: The Science of Love, and Christian Zen.
Even towards the end of his career, he was very much sought after for
retreats and spiritual talks, and he would get occasional calls for
interviews or video sessions. Until the stroke deprived him of free
movements, one could see him spending hours meditating in quiet areas or
reciting repetitive vocal prayers like the Jesus prayer or the Rosary.
Among the Japanese he baptized is the current Archbishop of Tokyo, Rev.
Okada, who will be present at Johnston's funeral.

has been one of the few recognizable names associated with Sophia
University and the Jesuits of Japan. I have heard his name mentioned in
numerous countries--especially in the English-speaking ones--and I was
always amazed at the admiration people had for him and at their
curiosity to know about his character and spirituality. People seem to
like his English style and intelligible approach to mysticism.

Towards the end of his life, I often called him jovially "The Prophet of
Doom," because he was much worried about the contemporary problems
affecting the Church and predicted that an entirely new Church and new
forms of Religious life have to emerge if they are to continue. Though
he might have been a Prophet of Doom, he was also a Prophet of Hope, for
he never gave in to despair or frustration but always inspired
Christian confidence in resurrection and renewal of all things that look
gloomy. His commitment to the welfare of the Church was never in doubt
although he equally stressed that all religions must strive to work
together in peace. One of the very last pieces he wrote on mysticism
and religious harmony, "Cosmic Energy," can be read at: http://willtells.blogspot.com/

Funeral Arrangements:
WAKE: October 14 (Th), 2010, 19:30 PM at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo (near Yotsuya Station on JR, Marunouchi, & Namboku lines)
FUNERAL MASS: October 15 (F), 2010, 13:30 PM at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo (near Yotsuya Station on JR, Marunouchi, & Namboku lines)


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تاريخ التسجيل : 29/07/2012
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