The Dialogue of Experience:
Reflections on Good Friday at Pine Ridge
Peter J Klink, S.J.
People had begun to move toward the center aisle of the church and were solemnly making their way toward the sanctuary. At the foot of the altar, two men of the community held a large, rough-hewn cross for the Good Friday veneration. From the back of the church, where a group of four men encircled a large drum, came the steady beat of that drum. It gave a rhythm to the ceremony and also gave a rhythm to the beating of my own heart. The words of their Lakota drum song pierced the air and lifted the prayers of all who had gathered in the church on that Good Friday evening on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The community was predominantly Lakota Sioux, although a few non-Lakota people – teachers from local schools, health care personnel from the hospital, etc. – also helped to make up that Good Friday’s praying community at Sacred Heart Church in the village of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
It was then, as people processed toward the cross, that I noticed a Lakota woman making her way up the aisle. She was wrapped in a woman’s traditional dance shawl. The tassels at the bottom of her shawl swayed in time with the rhythm of the drum and the movement of her own body. I noticed that her footsteps were the steps of someone dancing and praying at a traditional Lakota Sundance. That ceremony focuses around the wood of the Sundance Tree which is placed in the center of the arbor. Under the arbor, the community gathers in prayer for their beloved and in support of the dancers during the long days of the Sundance. This solemn Lakota ritual invites the uniting of one’s own sufferings, especially those endured by the dancers, with one’s prayers for the life of the community.
A dancer’s sacrifice includes such practices as fasting, physical self-mortification, piercing and prayerfully dancing under a hot sun. All this sacrifice, enwrapped in prayer, is offered up for the blessing of one’s family, one’s community and one’s loved ones. As this woman approached the wood of the cross on that Good Friday, she seemed to me to be reverencing and acknowledging the ways in which the obedient suffering and death of Jesus Christ – the wood of His cross – were endured for the salvation and healing of all people. This woman now was dancing her prayer as a Lakota Catholic woman of faith and reverence.
Recent General Congregations, particularly GC 34, have called us to a greater awareness of the cultural dimensions of our evangelization efforts. Decree Four of GC 34, “Our Mission and Culture,” reminds us that “our ministries have to be conducted with an awareness of their cultural dimension” (#27) and that “the people of a culture are the ones who root the Church and the Gospel in their lives.” (#26) In Decree Five, “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue,” we are called to become more aware of the multifaceted dimension of this call to dialogue. The Congregation and the Church recommend to us that we see this process as involving a fourfold dialogue of life, action, religious experience and theological exchange.
Decree Five also emphasizes the importance of professional theological reflection and exchange. We need the input of those specialists schooled in the different religious traditions to help us reflect upon and appreciate those traditions. However, the call of the Congregation in Decree Five also invites us all to be attentive to our own experience of everyday religious expressions and to attend to the dynamics and reality of an ongoing dialogue of religious experience, “where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute” in both word and practice. (#4d)
We are called to be attentive to and open our eyes for the inculturated religious expression of the people around us. The riches of other religious traditions are brought to us in serious theological reflection and discussion, but they also come to us in the differing religious voices around us and in our religious experience of one another’s faith. God seeks to draw all nations into one. It is important to know how “all” nations hear, touch, see, understand and respond to that Divine call. I am reminded of an Indian saying that was in Peter Buffet’s production, The Seventh Fire: “If you do not walk with the animals, you will not know them. And what you do not know, you will fear. And what you fear, you will destroy.” In our ministry among Native peoples, we strive to know and understand, and therefore appreciate, how the Risen Christ, whose Spirit has been poured out on all humanity, continues to rise and bless among all peoples and through their cultures as they search for the God of all creation.
Called to a more profound awareness of the cultural dynamics surrounding me and open to the enriching fourfold dialogue, I realized that in the experience of that Good Friday evening I was seeing the eloquently danced footsteps of interreligious dialogue in this Lakota woman’s Good Friday dance of faith. My own veneration and prayer that evening were deepened and enriched by the “dance” of my Lakota sister.
Klink (WIS) is president of Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The ministries of Red Cloud include educational, pastoral and cultural ministries with and among the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
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