Forty Easters Ago

[Reminiscence from Alex Nibley]

In the spring of 1973, Dad decided we should take advantage of Conference weekend for a jaunt to visit the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. He had heard that the Hopis were going to perform one of their sacred dances for the last time, and he wanted to see it before it vanished from the earth.

It was a strange crew: Dad, my brother Mike, BYU basketball star Kresimir Cosic, an Okinawan woman who was a convert to Mormonism, and seventeen-year-old me. We all piled into our aging Plymouth. Kreso coiled his seven-foot frame into the front seat and Mike and I shared the back seat with the Okinawan, who was maybe five feet tall in high heels and a classic east Asian lotus blossom. Dad said she was some kind of princess in her own country; I’m not sure exactly why she ended up in that back seat of our Plymouth driving through the desert subject to heat (Dad was always suspicious of air conditioning and wouldn’t turn it on even when we had it in a car) and the merciless teasing of the grinning Croatian in the front seat.

I really wish I could find a way to fit the seven-foot Yugoslavian basketball star and the diminutive Okinawan princess into the story in a way that makes sense — the two of them going back and forth in their respective accents almost unintelligible to the Americans in the car much less each other. The Croat caustic, rude — every word a jibe or a sarcastic retort all in broken English. The Asian with impeccable Japanese manners and equally broken English who, even when she understood his words, had no clue what the giant in front of her was saying, since sarcasm in Japanese doesn’t work like Croatian sarcasm translated into very bad English. I guess I feel a need to mention this odd pair because it contributes to the felliniesque nature of my memories of that trip. Like an image in a dream it was something I could never make up in my conscious mind.

But the story is not about them.

On the day before the dance, which was to be on Easter Sunday, we visited an old Hopi man whom Dad had known for decades. Dad used to buy kachina dolls from him. When we went to his house below one of the mesas, Dad asked him if he was going to the dance the next day. No, the man said. He had joined a Christian church, and his pastor had admonished him against participating in the old Hopi rituals. His religion wouldn’t allow him to attend the Hopi dance.

It’s hard to remember Hugh Nibley getting angry in a discussion about religion. Usually he took attacks in stride and found them stimulating rather than making him lose his tempter. I had certainly never seen anything provoke such an immediate and negative response from him than the old Hopi telling him that his preacher wouldn’t allow him to attend the dance.

“Don’t you know,” Dad said, getting right in the old Hopi’s face, “these are the same danced Jesus did at Easter time!”

But the old Hopi still wouldn’t go to the dance.

Forty years later I still remember fox skin aprons and the feathers the dancers wore and their sense of purpose, their clarity and simplicity in repeating the exact movements their ancestors had made generations before. I can hear in my mind the melody and rhythm of the song the Hopis sang as they danced. I remember how moved Dad was by the dancing and how connected he felt to this land and this people who were so far removed from his Edwardian upbringing in Los Angeles.

What the sarcastic seven-foot Croat and the diminutive princess from Okinawa thought of it all I can’t say.

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About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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6 Responses to Forty Easters Ago

  1. Renee Beyer says:

    A most interesting article. I was aware of the Hopi connection from reading your fathers bio. Also, long overdue thanks are in order. Back in 6th grade at Joaquin Elementary, one day we were standing in the library and you drew a copy of “The Hobbit” off of the shelf and said,”Read this.” I protested, but you fixed me with a steely gaze and said, “Just read it!” It was a worthwhile book, so many thanks. Later I found your father’s writings and have read most of them, some of them several times trying to understand what the heck he was talking about. Also, I greatly enjoyed “Sergeant Nibley PhD-Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle”. A most amazing book!

  2. redhat37 says:

    pretty blasphemous i would say about jesus dancing with the hopi- Jesus knew and understood the Hopi and planned a way for them to come into His kingdom, unlike the cojcolds who require a skin color change. dancing with the Hopi would have requred His personal descent from on high, this he did not do- this is not a nibley bullseye!

    just sayin

    • Marise Erickson says:

      Well, If one is blessed to read ‘The Early Christian Prayer Circle’, one will see many similarities with familiar sacred rituals….. the ‘dance’ Nibley referred to including the Savior and the Twelve and their wives is described in its sacred form and is recognizable as sacred…..doing a poor job explaining, but the article is on the Neal A. Maxwell Institute website…..
      “The Early Christian Prayer Circle” first appeared in Brigham Young University Studies 19 (1978): 41—78. Reprinted by permission from Mormonism and Early Christianity, vol. 4 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1987), 45—99…. -search for ‘The Early Christian Prayer Circle’. Wish i could figure out how to post a link.
      Also, other records of ancient prayers and prayer circles, etc., are available and explain what Nibley was referring to, in my humble opinion.

  3. Marty Nygaard says:

    I can’t think of a more fitting ending to my Easter than to think about Christ being in an ancient Hopi dance and Hugh Nibley, his friends, and family appreciating it in such a powerful way. Christ truly is “In all things and through all things. ” Thanks

  4. Pingback: A Hugh Nibley Easter « Mormon Scripture Explorations

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