“When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you caught anything to eat?’
They answered him, ‘No.’
So he said to them, ‘Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.’
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’”
Today’s Gospel reading focuses on how after the Resurrection, Christ appeared to His closest followers – who didn’t recognize Him – and in their grief and fear of persecution for continuing to preach the message, for whom and which the messenger was killed. Going back to what they knew best (fishing), they wanted regress to what life was like, before what happened. It’s what we all do as human beings; when we experience the pain of loss, trauma or just change in general, we harken back to the bygone days of when things used to be more prosperous, at least in our memory.
We do this in most aspects of our lives. Some of us espouse more conservative ideals that, somehow, life seemed easier in years past. We start traditions to associate with happy memories or we double-down on political or religious leaders who promise a return to the old ways.
In Lakota culture, we still have this deep desire to return to our traditional ways of life. It stems from the prime injustice of colonization, having been hunted down, our relatives killed in front of us, being forced onto reservations, converting to a foreign religion and being punished for violating American rules imposed on us without our individual consent. When I was growing up in the 1980s, my reservation began seeing a renaissance of sorts of traditional teachings. In 1978, Congress had passed the Indian Religious Freedom Act that decriminalized our traditional religious worship and sought to destigmatize cultural practices centered on language and social gatherings. I was fortunate in that I grew up in a time when I understood my parents and their relatives as they conversed in Lakota, when my lullaby was the rhythmic pounding of a powwow drum and I understood god and the spiritual universe around me in a Lakota worldview.
But by that point, the damage had been done. Generations of people were touched by historic trauma, still ashamed to speak their own language or engage in our religious practices. My family was still largely half Christian and half traditional. While I grew up understanding Lakota, I was shamed by others in my community for speaking in the feminine dialect (because of their Christian indoctrination that the gender binary was absolute and god’s will) and English became my primary mode of expression.
So in very real ways, I understand where the roots of conservatism take hold. We construct a world we hope will last for eons and when they fail to respond well to change, those constructed worlds are shaken, some are destroyed and we seek a return to that hope of what we had wanted. But where the wisdom of my people’s past carries through is being at peace with the reality that we’ve always adapted to change, we survive, adapting while holding true to what guides us: faith, family and interconnection.
In more narrow terms, as human beings, we do so enjoy going back to the past. There are genuinely good memories there where the people, places and things we loved live in infinite memory. From time to time, I will remember my parents, old friends and ex-boyfriends who’ve passed or gone away from me. And then, I romanticize the past, of how loving they were, how affirming they were and how perfect they were. And I get sad. I become involved in my sadness to the point of obsession, questioning what could have been done to keep them here, keep them alive, keep them happy or keep them loved.
But that’s no way to live my life. Recently, I was recalling to a friend my last romantic entanglement and how it ended a friendship and sent me flying away from the people and places that were associated with that person. Almost a year later and I’m able to be a little more objective about the whole situation because I can say, with some certainty, that that person didn’t actually care about me because he did uncaring, unkind and self-centered things without ever even thinking they were impacting me and I willingly subjected myself to it because I sought for some form of security, no matter how torturing it was for me.
And that’s human, too. We subject ourselves to torturous behavior in the hopes that someday, somehow, we will be rewarded. And when that fails, when we’re harmed by change, be it political, religious, societal or personal, we run into the night and want everything behind (institutions, people and places) smashed into oblivion.
But that, too, is no way to live our lives.
In my limited experience, peace, serenity and consciousness come from being able to forgive the past and people in it while going forward into the newness of each day. When I find myself dwelling in the past, I pray. It’s never a formal prayer or a structured prayer. When I dwell on the past, I ask god to take it from me to preserve it in god’s infinite nature, knowing that god can take care of the people, places and institutions in my memories far better than I ever could. I trust in god to take care of the people I loved and to set me forth on doing something new.
Christ told his followers by the shore to try something new as they fished and it just so happened that when they tried something new, their rewards were a manifest bounty. Then, He asked them to look after his people. Our charge as people of faith is to trust in the power that is to provide us with a new direction every day, to rise up resurrected each day, committed to the purpose of taking care of one another.