Monica Nehls (’15)
November 29, 2012
Image courtesy tagxedo.com
As the LORD’s chest entered David’s City, Saul’s daughter Michal was watching from a window. She saw King David jumping and dancing before the LORD, and she lost all respect for him. (2 Samuel 6:16 CEB)
I began my dancing “career” at age 5 when my mom enrolled me in a ballet class for tots presumably because I enjoyed hopping around. I promptly quit a few months later because we weren’t learning “spins.” I mean really, what’s the point of being in a ballet class if you’re not learning how to do a pirouette.
Since that fateful failed dance class, I have had a spotty history with formal dance training. Whenever I got the guts to try it again I was either the last to be asked to dance, or I was in the back, left corner of the stage. You know, where no one can see you. But throughout it all you could find me dancing it all out alone in my room. There was something freeing about dancing like that. Dancing the way I felt moved. I couldn’t spin the wrong way, there was no ball point change I could miss, and if I had “lobster claws” for wrists no one could call me out on it. I created the dance as the music flowed through me. I could prance, leap, twist, trip and fall over with no fear. I just had to keep moving to the beat.
I still dance alone in my room all the time. I let everything run through me and out of my body in a wordless flow. I dance out my joy, my fears, my longings, my excitement, my insecurities – all things I would put into a prayer. But when I dance it’s also kind of like I have a conversation through movement as I let the Holy Spirit move me. When I dance spontaneously I never know what I’ll do next, but suddenly I’m spinning and raising my arms, and it just feels right. It feels freeing. Choreographed dance is really similar too— your body visually displays the song as the music runs through you, just without the spontaneity. Except for like flashmobs because they’re spontaneous and choreographed…
Some of you might know or have noticed that on Sundays when FoSound sings the opening song I dance around in the narthex (back of the chapel). It started out as a way to covertly entertain FoSound and I liked the song. I mean, yeah it was funny, failing my arms and stomping my feet, but I didn’t expect such a strong, favorable reaction. Eliza really likes it, and I couldn’t figure out why. But in conversation with others I began to realize that it’s because she gets to witness my expression of prayer. Of grace. Of gratitude.
Kind of like when I admire Rachel’s artwork and think, “Wow, that’s so beautiful… How did she do that?” or when Ian sings or Kevin writes a poem. It’s a creation and often times a way of connecting with God. A prayer. A praise.
The Bible tells us that dancing in an old expression of praise. One of the oldest periscopes (or bits) of the Bible is when Miriam and the other women dance to praise God after they’ve escaped Egypt and crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptians get “punk’d”. The oldest part of the Bible was about celebrating and praise, and they did that through song and dance.
Several Psalms talk about praising God through dance too. Like Psalm 149:3 “Let us praise his name in dancing.” Or Psalm 30:11 “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” All I’m trying to say here is that it’s a thing, okay? Dancing to praise the Lord isn’t a new concept even if the idea of dancing in church makes most of us a feel a little weird. Dancing in front of people – in front of all you – it’s hard.
It’s difficult because dancing is so personal. The creation of movement—putting yourself into a movement. There is nothing to hide behind. It’s raw and it makes us vulnerable And if we look silly while doing it, then people might think that we’re silly. Foolish even. And God forbid we look like we don’t know what we’re doing.
But do you know who looked really stupid while dancing?
In II Samuel Chapter 6 when the Ark of God comes into Jerusalem, King David dances before the Lord, “with all of his might.” All of his might. When I think about dancing with all of my might, it looks a little wacky and a little out of control, so I think he probably looked a little silly too. But do you know what else? He pretty much danced in his tighty-whitys. In front of everybody. And I was worried that I would trip in front of you guys… Anyway this girl, Michal, daughter of Saul, sees him dancing practically naked in the street with all of his might and she goes up to him later and was like “You looked so dumb. I can’t believe you did that”. And David was like “Oh yea? Well I did it for God who is way more important than you AND next time I’m gonna dance even crazier and look even stupider because as long as I’m dancing for God it doesn’t matter how dumb I look… besides the slave girls like it.” David knows his dancing might not have been the most graceful or the most beautiful and he knows he looked ridiculous, but most importantly he knows he was dancing to praise God and that is whole point.
Because dancing, and dancing to praise God, isn’t really about skill. As Allison Sylvester said, it’s about the expression of grace. It’s not something to be self-conscious about because it’s not about you and whoever might be watching; it’s between you and God. And if you communicate with God when you hop on one foot and wave your arms around because how you feel the Holy Spirit moving you then that is a beautiful, sacred, liberating thing.
Now some of you might be thinking, “That’s great that you can find connection with God through dancing, but that doesn’t really jive with me.” And that’s totally fine. Everyone has their own prayer connections that work best for them. BUT! I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you tapping your feet. When you hear something beautiful and stirring and you grin to yourself and suddenly you’re foot is moving. I’ve seen you clap your hands and sway. I know you do. And if you don’t then you’re trying to hard to ignore it. That’s what I’m talking about though. One of my blues dancing friends described dancing as “listening with your body” and I think the best kind of dancing is the kind when you can’t help but dance. Feeling something and being moved and moving. And I would say that yea, keeping time with you your foot, or tapping your fingers is a form of dance, because we dance when we move to a rhythm and tapping a foot is a form of connecting with music or a beat.
So find what moves you. After all we were born to move. Whether it’s bobbing you head up and down while shuffling to the beat, or choreographing a dance to a song that awakes something in your soul. Whether it’s lyrical, interpretative, liturgical, jazz, hip-hop, or the YMCA. In fact I would argue that the Macarena can be a profoundly spiritual movement.
Anne Lynch, a fabulous alumna of the community who preached a sermon last year that largely inspired me to do this one, told me a story about dancing at General Conference. For those of you who might not know, General Conference is the national legislature of the Methodist Church. It was after a rough day of voting on the official LGBT language in Methodism, and it didn’t go so well. She told me about the pain and the hurt that she and her friends experienced that day as they stood behind a bar that separated the voting delegates from the other attendees. Later that night though, the praise band began rocking out to They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love and her friend began dancing with her, and he accidently fell into the bar and broke it. They literally broke a dividing bar by joyously dancing into it. Is that symbolic or what. There was then an outpouring of people dancing on the floor that the painful voting took place on earlier that day. She sent me a video clip of everyone dancing and it was such a beautiful thing. The joy and the grace that spontaneously broke out through dance and praising God is sacred. And I think there’s something great about that. Dancing before the Lord and dancing with each other.
When we come together and move as one in our own traditions of dance whether be the YMCA, Cupid Shuffle, ballroom, swing, or rocking out in our rooms, we still praise God when the Holy Spirit moves through us and we embody something greater than ourselves.