Where Jesus isn’t white

I am not Catholic. In fact it took Easter living on the Rez to actually get me to my first mass today.

I can’t help it, but there is a certain irony of a packed, tiny Catholic church on a warm spring-feeling morning on a reservation. At the front of the church stood tall stoic fixtures of Mary and Joseph holding the baby Jesus. Their skin was dark. Their hair black. I grew up in churches where the statues didn’t look like me. But I also am not sure if they looked all that Lakota either. In the back stood the traditional Jesus everyone recognizes with the Sacred Heart. He also was dark. I marveled at this different kind of icon.

The altar was covered in a star quilt with a cross stitched in the middle and on the wall was a painting of a young Native woman holding a cross as she looked up at what can only be assumed the embodiment of God. The pastor spoke of resurrection and told the story of a Mexican woman’s own sacrifice where she had to make a choice.  Either leave the elder woman she was crossing the border with behind so she could reach her family or stay with the woman to make sure she got the help she needed. She chose to stay, found immigration and they got the elder woman medical attention in time. This however resulted in the woman who made this difficult choice ending up in jail for a bit but once she shared her story, they let her go and in fact put her on a bus to her family — her children.

I sat there listening. Looking at everything. Realizing where I was. The people nodded, young children ran up and down the aisles and the sunlight broke through the windows of the small, white-painted church. But the history of the land kept me in wonder — the wonder of being in this church and not knowing its history, really. Just that tumultuous past of conversion on Native soil they don’t really talk about in history books. There is that phrase often cliched: “they don’t really talk about in history books.” I won’t wax poetic about all that. The thing is many of the attendees were of all racial backgrounds. Coming together in prayer. It was as it was to be — faith clinging on. A test of time and how it passes.

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