Anamnesis in the Lakota Language and Lakota Concepts of Time and Matter

Article excerpt

The English language was the most common language of the missionaries that brought Christianity to the First Nations of North America. This has meant that the Lakota understanding of Christianity has been limited by the English language, because Native Christians were not allowed to express their Christianity through their own culture and language. The Lakota people as well as the other First Nations that accepted Christianity did so with their own cultural and spiritual perspectives on the creator and creation. The problem developed when the missionaries insisted that they express their Christianity only in English. Even the Episcopal and Presbyterian Lakotas, who were allowed to create hymnals and prayer books in Dakota,1 would send their children to boarding schools where they would be forbidden to speak their language outside of church. The language used in church was also different from the Lakota language that was used in day-to-day conversations, with theological words being invented by the missionaries, who tended to eschew already existing words, since they were not "Christian."

The journals and other writings of the earliest missionaries reveal that even though they had learned the language, they often misunderstood the theology of the people they served. The missionaries would cling to false assumptions that they had prior to meeting the Lakota people; this ensured that the theological words they invented often did not assist the Lakota adequately to understand that they in fact had a better grasp of theology than the missionaries who brought Christianity to them.

The Lakota language, like those of most First Nations, uses only the present tense, has no gender pronouns, and does not make a distinction between physical matter and spiritual matter, which makes the Lakota ideally suited to understand many theological concepts that could greatly enrich the Christian tradition. The irony in all this is that because the Lakota People inherited English as their theological language, it can be difficult adequately to express what they understand in their language. Furthermore, many of our older medicine men even use a separate language for the sole purpose of discussing theology. If the early missionaries had allowed the Lakota people to inculturate Christianity as Lakotas without having also to convert to their culture and language, they may have been able to contribute greatly to larger discussions of Christian theology. One such discussion is how the Lakota concept of time can inform the eucharistie concept of anamnesis.

The word anamnesis used in the Christian eucharistie context comes from the part of the liturgy where the phrase "Do this in memory of me" is stated by the celebrant, but the eucharistie event of anamnesis is more than a memorial statement. Dom Gregoiy Dix, in The Shape of the Liturgy, says that the "doing" of the eucharist "recalls" or "re-presents"2 the sacrifice of Christ in his death and resurrection. Previous generations of liturgical scholars struggled with this term, often getting stuck in arguments over whether or not anamnesis means that a re-sacrifice occurs every time the eucharist is celebrated. Some scholars would find such ideas repugnant since Christ was to make only one sacrifice for sin and would not have to continue to do it over and over. Dix was very careful to clearly state that anamnesis is not a re-sacrifice, but "as itself presently operative by its effects."3

When we participate in the Holy Eucharist, we do so as if we are with Jesus (and all other participants) as he celebrated his last supper. This is enabled not because of the actual meal, but rather by his one sacrifice in his death, resurrection, and ascension. This anamnesis is the connecting point for the body of Christ as both the actual presence of Jesus (his body) and the church (also his body.) Dix wrote that the body of Christ in the eucharistie elements could not occur unless the body of Christ of the church participated in that eucharist. …