Dancing for the Ark
Photo credit: Jackson David from Pexels
Readings: Psalm 132, 2 Samuel 6:1-2, 12-19, Secrets of Heaven #10416 (see below)
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Not long after I decided to go with the second reading from the lectionary for today’s sermon, I began to regret it. As I read over 2 Samuel, going back and forth over the text to see what happened before and after, I started to panic a little, thinking: “I can’t draw anything good from this!” And why? Because it is too messy. There are no simple heroes or villains. It is a story of war, and no one comes out well. Since we last left David, a mere boy who vanquished a giant, he first spent years as a loyal servant in Saul’s court. Even as Saul’s paranoia eventually forces David to become a fugitive, he maintains his integrity in the face of Saul’s cruelty. And yet, as David gathers support and strategizes, even as Saul eventually dies at the hands of the Philistines and David mourns him with sincerity, the narrative is filled with wartime actions that seem almost casual in the biblical account but that feel deeply wrong in the larger scheme. And, as much as David is lifted up as a seminal leader, alongside his good qualities we also know that he was deeply flawed.
And in a flash I feel a distinct resonance with our own times: full of messiness and sadness and loss and injustice, full of a necessary reframing of things we thought we knew, full of a necessary reckoning with things covered over, full of dealing with things we never thought we’d have to deal with. From pandemics and insurrections to climate change and racial injustice, there is a lot to feel uncomfortable and uncertain about. Processing it all feels hard and messy and sad, as we all just try to figure out how to show up in way that is accountable and useful. I’m sure we’d prefer easier stories, easier history, an easier sacred text, but that is not what we have in front of us.
What I take from this story, though, is the recognition that God remains in all of it, not as sanction but as grace. And if last week, on July 4th, we spoke of the necessity of pairing celebration with reflection, this week we can see the other way, we can hear about the necessity of pairing reflection and challenge with celebration and joy. Because, in the face of all that is happening, all that we are learning, I know that I sometimes it can feel like celebration is not allowed, that somehow joy itself in the face of injustice and pain is a betrayal. How can we be happy when so many are suffering, so much is going wrong in our world?
And certainly, there are ways that the pursuit of happiness, of momentary and external joy, can be a distraction, an avoidance, a resistance, an indulgence, that prevents us from dealing with what needs to be dealt with. We certainly need to be aware when we are doing this. But, celebration and joy around the presence of God with us is an indispensable way to connect *to* God, to feel within our bones that our God is a good God, to recognize that our God is with us, in every challenge. It is a kind of celebration that cannot be relinquished, for the sake of our own well-being.
We can see this in the picture of David dancing as the ark is taken to Jerusalem, bookended by war and upheaval on one side and David’s upcoming transgressions on the other. It is not so much that David as a character has a consciousness of this tension; rather, the narrative itself provides us with the juxtaposition. Within so much loss and violence and turmoil, still God reaches out in order to be among humankind, to be at the very center of our lives, as the ark with God’s instructions for living would be in the center of Jerusalem. And so David dances, as do the people, and we are invited to join in.
This dancing, this expression of joy, does not erase the urgency and the gravity of the wrongs we will need to right, the catastrophes we will need to manage, the apologies we will need to make, the healing we will need to do. The dancing, the expression of joy, puts us in the space where we might be renewed, where our selfhood is forgotten, even if just for a moment, where God’s love might freely flow into our soul, our mind, our heart, so that we have the fortitude and the resilience to step into the challenges of our life and our world.
For there certainly are other ways to approach our challenges. We look at Michal, Saul’s daughter, we see her despising David as he danced, and we see a resonance with that part of us that despises freedom and joy in ourselves and in others. She admonishes David sarcastically as he returns home:
“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20)
Her story is complicated too. As daughter of the king, she was used to privilege. And yet as a women in ancient times, she did not have access to any measure of self-determination either. She was initially promised in marriage to David by her father, Saul, when David was favored in court. Years later, after Saul had died, David called that promise due and dragged Michal away from her current husband. The biblical account tells us her husband followed behind her for miles, weeping, as David’s soldiers led her away. Of course she was salty and resentful, at minimum. Her life had been determined by powerful men who cared nothing for her own wishes. And even her own feelings ultimately do not get to be hers, as this personal episode is co-opted by the narrative to demonstrate the true end of the reign of Saul and his line.
There are ways that we have all been wronged and challenged, by particular people, by systems, by what seems like fate. Anger, resentment, and sadness are reasonable and expected reactions to this reality, especially in situations where we have no power to make things better, to right the wrongs, to change our circumstances.
But the ways we process that anger, resentment and sadness are key. We can see in Michel what happens when life make us hard and cynical. When we see the eruption of joy in others and all we can think of is what we have lost, what has gone wrong. The biblical narrative implies that for this stance, Michal would remain childless all her life. In the natural sense, this seems an overly harsh sentence for an understandable reaction to being treated like chattel. But in the spiritual sense, we can see that nothing can be born from that type of hardness, there can be no offspring of growth and transformation from a mindset that centers our pain, instead of processing our pain, that twists the existence of hardship into an ongoing support for a ego-centered worldview. And that is a very different thing from recognizing an accountability for our own actions even as we do not excuse what has happened to us, even as we work for justice and change.
And all of this is so nuanced and difficult to sort out in our real lives. This text doesn’t tell us “don’t worry be happy.” This text doesn’t tell us to just forget about our challenges and dance. This text isn’t saying we shouldn’t feel the fullness of the injustice of the transgressions we encounter, learn about, or experience. Perhaps it is just too much to see *David* dancing, knowing that he was the one who took Michel away from her life. But is it possible to see the dancing itself as holy and good apart from him?
What instead, would it have been like if Michal could have danced? She was alone in that window looking down; what if there had been a community to dance with her, to help her remember her connection to her God and her worthiness and potential. We can have compassion for the way her perspective turned, and why, while also hoping and wishing that she might have had access to a community and a practice that renewed her, that kept her whole in spirit. Purely happy endings are the stuff of fairy tales, but the dance, connected to the ground and our heartbeat; it bridges what is and what could be in a real and primal way.
The establishment of the ark in Jerusalem is so very important to the Jewish tradition and by extension, to ours. It signals the centrality of God in our lives, about how God pitched a tent right in the middle of all our messiness, and how we might respond by building the temple of our reverential selfhood around it. What steadfastness, what an unreasonable faith God has in us! And for this gift, for this grace, we dance.
8 ‘Arise, LORD, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. 9 May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.’ ”(Psalm 132:8-9)
1 LORD, remember David and all his self-denial. 2 He swore an oath to the LORD, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: 3 “I will not enter my house or go to my bed, 4 I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5 till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” 6 We heard it in Ephrathah, we came upon it in the fields of Jaar: 7 “Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool, saying, 8 ‘Arise, LORD, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. 9 May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.’ ” 10 For the sake of your servant David, do not reject your anointed one. 11 The LORD swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. 12 If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.” 13 For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, 14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it. 15 I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor I will satisfy with food. 16 I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will ever sing for joy. 17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. 18 I will clothe his enemies with shame, but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.”
2 Samuel 6:1-2. 12-19
1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.
12 Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. 16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. 17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
Secrets of Heaven #10416
This is clear from the meaning of 'playing' as the desire of a person's interiors to celebrate, for play is the outcome of that desire, being a bodily activity brought about by gladness of mind; and all desire for celebration and all gladness of mind come from the delights belonging to the loves that govern a person. The reason why agreement as well is meant is that every desire to celebrate has agreement residing inwardly within it; for if any disagreement or disapproval enters in, that desire perishes. The desire to celebrate resides inwardly in a person's feeling of freedom, and all feeling of freedom comes as a result of love, when nothing exists to frustrate it.
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