“I tell you,” Jesus said, “If these people were silent, the stones would shout out!”
Later the stones did, as this man Jesus was treated unjustly, so unjustly he was led to crucifixion like a lamb to slaughter. Stones revolted as the earth quaked, burial sites split open, and the dead got up and walked into town. And then, three days later, a stone spoke again in a raspy voice as it slid away from the opening of a tomb, releasing the soul of peace.
I thought about shouting stones this week, wondering what I could say about them. Then I took a trip to Santee. The drive along Highway 12 was beautiful, many areas appearing as I imagine they looked shortly before May of 1866 when the Dakota Indians first settled on the Santee Sioux reservation: rounding hills of winter browns and spring greens, iced with snow. It was a simple assignment: to write a story about Dakota language classes being taught at Nebraska Indian Community College.
My language educator began the conversation. “You can’t write about how we teach the Dakota language,” he said, “unless you learn why we lost it.”
Thus began a two-hour, crash course on injustices cutting so deeply even stones would have had to shout out. Much like his ancestors sat in a ring around the light of a campfire, so Jim and I sat in a circle of chairs in a Santee college classroom as he spoke of a host of grandparents who would rather sit in stony silence than revisit the ways their language was lost.
They wanted to forget about the day when men in power wielded unfamiliar weapons to force indigenous people into submission and onto reservations: smoking long guns, hanging nooses, barbed wire and hastily-drawn laws. And boarding schools.
Yes, boarding schools where men in power ripped children from the arms of their parents and shoved them into classrooms miles away from familiar surroundings, much like lambs to slaughter, to be assimilated and acculturated into becoming someone they weren’t. The day when mothers and fathers camped outside the front doors of boarding schools, hoping for a glimpse of their child. The day when children’s braids were shaved from their heads, their clothing replaced with that of white boys and girls. They day they were silenced, in fear of being beaten for uttering one word of Dakota.
The pain of these injustices lives with them as it lived with me as I drove home, a pain so deep even stones should shout out. In this Holy Week, this time of self-reflection, injustices continue in our country and around the world. Perhaps when they do, it’s time for us to speak out for those held captive in some way. To let the raspy voice of the resurrection stone speak as we roll it away, releasing the peace of heaven.
And the stones will shout, “Alleluia.”