Proper 10B/Ordinary 15B
2 Samuel 6
During my first year of seminary, I took a liturgical dance class, as I was interested in learning more on how to integrate movement in worship, especially with children. I was especially excited that the instructor, RevDance, was a former member of the Alvin Ailey dance company among other credentials, and her thesis for her M. Div. degree included a sermon dance on Hagar, which I had seen online and found incredibly moving deep in my core.
Now, I have to say here that I am NOT a dancer, and have had no training in dance, unless you count learning the Virginia Reel and the Hustle in high school PE classes.
Oh, and Jazzercise as an adult. I don’t have long Rockette-like legs, or lithe flowing arms--rather, I am a bit, well, stout, and with just hints of flexibility. Jus’ sayin.
On the first day of class, after RevDance warmed up us with some exercises and group movement pieces as she read scripture, we sat in a circle on the slate chapel floor to go through the syllabus. She informed us that during the semester, we would create a worship service together. I immediately said, “We don’t have to dance in front of the whole school, do we?” and she assured me that we would take the lectionary for the week, and create a movement inspire worship service around a theme we found in the scriptures. I felt assured, because I sure as heck wasn’t going to be leaping around and shaking my booty in front of my colleagues.
The course was really wonderful, and I learned some great skills in how to work with liturgy and movement that I could use in ministry. Then, the time came to plan for chapel. We had this wonderful Psalm, so while RevDance read part of the scripture, then the seven of us moved as a cluster after each verse, while this amazing jazz pianist riffed on the piano. It was very improvisational--that’s the only way I can explain it. So, as we practiced together, all of sudden, RevDance said, “Karla, at the end of this verse, I want you to peel off from the group, and do a solo.”
“Solo what?” I thought in my head, and I looked at her quizzically, and said, “Huh?”
“Just peel off and let your body move to the music and Word. Everybody will have a chance to do it.” I was horrified. “Are we going to do this in worship tomorrow? This peel off-y thing?” She brightly said, “Yes!” Sh-t, I thought to myself, because I couldn’t really say it out loud at the time. I lamely practiced my solo by running around the space and fluttering my fingers, getting back to the group cluster as fast as I could.
I mean really, what the heck?
I considered being really sick the next day, so I could miss chapel, but instead, I pulled on my sweat pants and t-shirt, and showed up in bare feet for worship. Did I say the guy improvising on the piano was pretty stellar? Totally moved by the Spirit. The time came for our “piece.” PianoJazzman began riffing, and then RevDance was reading this beautiful scripture, and the Spirit started moving in me, and when it came for my solo, I totally let loose.
I didn’t care who or what was happening in the room, it was just my body, the Word, and music that was so holy it felt sacramental. I twirled, I swept my arms down to the floor, I rolled on the group, I lept, I cried--I danced unto the Lord! I Danced! It was one of the few times I felt completely fearless, filled with love and joy, without abandon. I felt like I was flying, but completely grounded.
So, when I reflect on David’s leaping and dancing with all his might (and quite possibly nakedly, according to scholarship) as the ark was brought into the city of David, I think of the moment when I truly danced for God, without abandon. The sheer, pure joy truly is fearless. The passion is abiding. It’s something I can appreciate, in spite of this flawed character of a King.
There are problems in this text that beg to be noticed. What about all that unpleasantness with Uzzah? The poor guy was just trying to still the ark with his hand because the oxen shook the cart it was resting on. God strikes him dead? No wonder the lectionary leaves out those verses in the reading.
One of the other silences in this text centers around David’s wife, Michal, who is Saul (David’s predecessor in the kingship). Traditionally, Michal gets a bum rap because upon seeing David dancing in the streets, she “despises” him, and later, in verses 20-23 (also not in the lectionary reading) appears as if she is nagging David for exposing himself in the street like any common vulgar fellow. David defends himself, and the text ends with the report that Michal never had a child to the day of her death. Does that mean David abandoned conjugal relations with her, as a punishment? Did God strike her barren? We don’t know, but we do know that she never had the joy of childbirth, which was pretty much an expectation of success for women in the ancient world.
Cheryl Exum has a wonderful chapter in Alice Bach’s book, The Pleasures of Her Text, entitled, “Murder They Wrote: Ideology and Manipulation of Female Presence in the Bible” which explores the story of Michal, and lifts her out of the “phallogenic bias of the text” in order to “hear her voice” and giving her a “measure of autonomy denied in the larger story.” She notes that previously Michal “loved” David, but nowhere in the larger story does David show any emotion or affection toward her. His attitude towards her is either ignoring her, or being defensive. In addition, instead of perceiving her as nagging, perhaps she is trying to preserve and defend what is holy and sacred in their tradition. The point being, there is much more to this woman than the bias of the text leads us to believe.
So back to the dance. David is not perfect, and usually a downright scoundrel, if you ask me, in spite of writing some beautiful music. But he was deeply passionate in his praising of God, and even in his despairing laments to God. He knew how to let loose, which I think is important for all of us to learn, because really, each day is an improvisation on life and faith, isn’t it?
And perhaps, the more we can fear less, and be opened more, we notice the wider world more--and discrepancies and injustices come to light, and we might be led to passionately and courageously expose them. The presence of Uzzah and Michal remind us, than in the larger story, there are those who are excluded, and as we dance with God and for God, we are called to bring forth those excluded into full inclusion in this story of Life.
Let’s dance together, shall we?