Then David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the LORD with abandon, as he and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn.
Many Americans feel assured that ours is the freest nation in the world. Speaking of North Koreans, Russians or Iranians they shudder at the lack of freedom those people suffer. Skeptical by nature, I wonder if Americans have any conception of true freedom.
Our first reading describes the “abandon” of King David as he “came dancing before the Lord.” Dancing is certainly an expression of enthusiasm, joy and freedom; and yet there is hardly any dancing in American churches!
I remember some efforts in the 1980’s to introduce dancing in our worship of God. The experiments with children, running around with colored streamers or working through choreographed movements, were accepted as darling. Some adults were willing to leave their confining pews to experience the open ranges around them. The single bold woman who danced with abandon was greeted with silence. Congregations will follow the presider during the Palm Sunday service, Holy Thursday Mass and Easter Vigil but those processions cannot be called dancing.
So how free are we to practice our First Amendment right?
In some African languages the English words dance and sing are translated as the same word. Singing is dancing; dancing is singing. Africans visit our congregations and wonder how we can remain so rigidly still as we sing. Our missionaries describe Sunday masses that last for hours as African Catholics sing and dance their joy in the Lord.
The opposite of freedom is fear. Oppressive regimes successfully stifle the free impulse with threats; the most effective threats are scorn, shame, sneers, mockery and so forth. Many Americans are afraid to dance or sing in Church for fear of what their children, parents, neighbors or friends will say. Some have never learned to do either, their natural impulses to sing and dance were stifled when they were children.
But singing and dancing is what human beings do when they enjoy themselves. It's not just a spectator sport for supremely thin "Riverdancers." We have seen athletes dance for joy in the end zone. We have seen Russian, Greek and eastern European men form large circles, hold hands and dance. People can dance occasionally during wedding parties; some even join dance clubs.
(Unfortunately, many Americans -- even religious Americans -- think "sex" when they think "dance," just as they think sex for anything else that's enjoyable. And being terrified of sex, they don't go there.)
As we hear of King David's dancing before the Lord let's not kid ourselves that we are the freest of people. In fact we are more frightened than most nations. Let us pray that God will set us free, first to practice our faith with song and dance, and then to invite the scoffers to "Come, join us!"