I grew up on a small farm in a rural community and didn’t get exposed to dancing in any form until high school. I loved music so adding movement in dance to music seemed like a perfect combination but the sock hops after football games weren’t exactly a place you needed to worry about your skills since everyone was simply enjoying the experience together. As a result, I was always fascinated and enjoyed watching others dance on TV or elsewhere who did it with such grace and beauty.
My love of the “big band” era and my enjoyment of watching skilled dancers was likely what led to a period after graduate school when my husband and I took and enjoyed some ballroom dancing lessons. It was not as easy as I might have hoped (akin to learning to skate perhaps) despite my husband and I both having a musical background and a reasonable amount of rhythm. When the instructor would dance with me, I was almost convinced I could become a good dancer because as he led, I found his confident steps easy to follow.
The latest dance fads can be fun to watch, but they don’t show the grace and beauty of ballroom dancing and the relational connection between the two dance partners since often there is no physical connection between the two that are dancing.
Perhaps I am just one of those old-time romantics who loves to have my husband hold me in his arms and take me around a dance floor. Isn’t that what dreams are made of when we (as little girls) read about Cinderella going to the ball or see Belle dancing with the Beast in Beauty and the Beast?
That style of dancing connotes relational connection with someone beyond connecting with the music and the rhythm, doesn’t it?
But when I am immersed in the story of David, I get to a scene in 2 Samuel where we find a description of David dancing that I would love to have seen as it is described. The occasion happens after King Saul is dead and David is now king, and he wants to set things in place for his people to worship as God had outlined so long ago to Moses. The years since then had caused many of those early ordinances to be set aside.
The Ark of the Covenant had been captured 30 years earlier by the Philistines, but David recognized to have God’s rule over the kingdom over which he reigned, the Ark would need to come to Jerusalem. If you read the story about his attempt at this, you will learn that it will require two times to accomplish this task because the people had forgotten how the Ark was to be handled. The first time David tries to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the priest puts it on an ox cart and as it is going along it slides off the cart and the priest reaches out to hold the Ark from hitting the ground. His error results in his death and David stops the trip, but he is not deterred from what needs to happen.
The Ark of the Covenant was not something that was worshipped but was significant to the Hebrew people. What was its significance?
“The Hebrews were a historical people. They believed that God worked in their lives, did things. God wasn’t a blurred glow of sentiment. God wasn’t an abstract concept. God wasn’t a remote legislator passing laws on gravity and adultery. God wasn’t a bearded judge, austere and exacting. God was personal in history: creating, directing, saving, blessing. God entered the affairs of men and women; and when he did, he judged and saved, called to account and blessed. Most of all he loved. He entered into covenants with his people, giving them the dignity of sharing his work, living by faith and in love. The Ark kept all this before them.”Eugene Peterson
Many of us are accustomed to worship services that are more sedate and perhaps solemn with hymns being sung and a choir and those who attend standing or sitting and singing with as much reverence as we can. Others of us are part of churches where hands are raised and clapping along with the music and a worship band are the norm and we see it as no less honoring to God. A few of us are a part of churches where there is worshipful dancing that is a part of the service while others of us would feel quite uncomfortable with that since we see dancing as a secular activity.
On this second trip to bring back the Ark of the Covenant David is determined to honor this historic part of the Hebrew faith. He knew the significant role this would be to bring worship as God intended into the nation he was seeking to lead. David had a real relationship with God, not one based on religious form.
“David had been living dangerously all his life – with lions and bears, a taunting giant and a murderous king, marauding Philistines and cunning Amalekites, in wilderness caves and wadis. And with and in God: running and hiding, praying and loving…David had learned to live openly, daringly, trustingly, and exultantly before God.”Eugene Peterson
God was very personal to David and so his joy could not be contained as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem.
“David danced. In God, David had access to life that exceeded his capacity to measure or control. He was on the edge of mystery, of glory. And he danced. When we’re going about our work responsibly and steadily, we walk. Walking is our normal mode of locomotion. But when we are beside ourselves with love, charged with excess of meaning, shaken out of preoccupation with ourselves, we dance. David danced. If David had been merely carrying out his religious duties or conducting a political ceremony, he would have walked in solemn procession before the Ark, leading it into Jerusalem, or taking pains that God be properly honored. He was worshipping, responding to the living God. He was open to the life of God flowing around and through him, the God whose ways intersected history in a manner defined by that Ark, ways of salvation, and revelation and blessing.”Eugene Peterson
In this midst of this joy, David’s wife, Michal (King Saul’s daughter), looked out her window and saw him dancing before the Ark, enjoying the people who were also praising God, and she mocked him. It would seem she believed that stately kingly behavior and a cold religious expression were preferable to a vibrant personal relationship with God. This choice of Michal’s resulted in a prophecy that she would be childless, and she remained so until she birthed a son, and, on that day, she died.
This part of David’s story gives us reason to reflect on how we relate to God and worship Him. Is it decorous and distant or personal and full of life whether we are dancing or singing, raising our hands, or clapping, being silent with head bowed or kneeling beside an altar?