As we moved into the Easter season this year, I found myself thinking of a comment by the sacramental theologian Peter Fink, S.J., about how difficult it can be to get Catholics to pay attention to the Easter season. After 40 days of Lent and the Easter Triduum, people’s focus and imagination is largely spent, and a sort of fatigue can set in, such that we coast from Easter Sunday back into ordinary time, when we should be celebrating. Theologically, the Easter season remembers the church sent forth to proclaim the Gospel and serve God’s people. What better occasion, then, for parishes to commission new ministers for parish life and highlight the work various people of the parish are doing in their own lives. The weeks of Easter are a time for parishioners to offer reflections on their lives, socialize after Mass, present vocation talks, put on a volunteer fair or carry out a parish service project. It is a season in which we should tap into our Christian restlessness, the Holy Spirit as it moves within and invites our own community, seeking that God’s reign may be brought more fully into life.
Father Fink’s ideas come to mind because I can feel that post-Lenten lethargy in my bones. Lent naturally seems to me like a race that you run, where Easter is the finish line and the Triduum is the last three miles, run mostly uphill. I suspect to some extent I never quite make it past Good Friday. Not that Jesus doesn’t rise; I’m just not quite sure how to rise with him. It all happens too fast. He’s dead, he’s alive, and I am slow to adjust.
This Easter season I have been asking myself, where are those moments of the resurrection that I should be celebrating. I have witnessed Christ’s death. My mind wanders back frequently to a drive along the Gulf Coast in early March, past houses and hotels crushed like matchsticks, through whole neighborhoods thrown literally on top of one another, mile after mile. But where, O Lord, is the resurrection?
The answer comes from an unexpected quarter. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, where I used to work, they told stories of a high school basketball player named SuAnne Big Crow. Basketball is to the rez what college football is to Nebraska and the Yankees are to New York, part of the fabric of reality. Out there the game means something, speaks somehow to people’s fundamental aspirations, their sense of themselves and of their aspirations. A good player takes on a sort of iconic status in the community, and people will come to take real inspiration from both the players’ on-court demeanor and their ability to pump fake, fade back or cut in the lane.
SuAnne, as I heard it, was such a figure. She was a great player, one who had been noticed by many even before high school, and she played with a spirit about her that quite simply gave people hope. In the year 2000, Ian Frazier published a book about Pine Ridge called On the Rez; more than 50 pages of it are devoted to people’s memories of SuAnne—her hands, her sense of humor, her spirit, how she won the state tournament for Pine Ridge, her sudden death. Everywhere Frazier went, it seemed, people had a story.
There was one story in particular that I heard frequently. SuAnne and her teammates were at an away game in a little South Dakota town off the reservation. As they ran out for pregame warm-ups, they were greeted by racist shouts and jeers. I never heard what exactly was being said, just that it was loud and persistent, and it was coming from all around them.
Humiliated and probably scared, she and her teammates quickly circuited the court. And then, by herself, SuAnne Big Crow stopped dead center. She put a towel around her shoulders, as though it were an Indian shawl, and while the crowd continued to taunt and heckle, she began to perform a traditional Lakota dance. She spun and stepped gracefully, her shawl extended behind her like the wings of a bird. As she moved, she sang a traditional song in the strange, otherworldly tones of her people. While the crowd screamed at her, she stood in that center circle before them. She sang and she danced.
As the story was told to me, SuAnne’s action humbled that crowd. Watching her quietly dance and sing, in a world of her own, their own voices grew still. When it was finished, her dance had broken their hearts.
Some scholars define the resurrection as God making a way where there is no way. How else to describe a teenage girl standing before a taunting mob and responding in a manner so altogether different?