Dance Sister, Dance
The Bible, quite frankly, can easily become a prison – and whenever you discover that you’ve been incarcerated, you need to have the good sense to pray for someone to come by and pick the lock. There’s no point at all in having a Holy Book if it doesn’t draw you closer to God – and any passage that isn’t leading you to joy, to compassion, to a growing trust in the Almighty is a passage that’s locking you up.
I’m convinced that the greatest challenge facing Christians of our era is finding a way to look at the scriptures with “new eyes”; and if you want to do that, it’s a good idea to surround yourself with people who are connected to the Gospel in ways that are fresh and true. Don’t be surprised, though, when you discover that these are the same people who make repentance an ongoing aspect of their spiritual exercise.
Feast of St. Agatha
Like the choice fat of sacred offerings,
so was DAVID in Israel.
He played with lions as though they were young goats,
and with bears, like lambs of the flock.
As a youth he struck down the giant
and wiped out the people’s disgrace;
His hand let fly the slingstone
that shattered the pride of Goliath.
For he had called upon the Most High God,
who gave strength to his right arm
To defeat the skilled warrior
and establish the might of his people.
Therefore the women sang his praises
and honored him for “the tens of thousands.”
When he received the royal crown, he battled
and subdued the enemy on every side.
He campaigned against the hostile Philistines
and shattered their power till our own day.
With his every deed he offered thanks
to God Most High, in words of praise.
With his whole heart he loved his Maker
and daily had his praises sung;
He added beauty to the feasts
and solemnized the seasons of each year
With string music before the altar,
providing sweet melody for the psalms
Sirach 47, 2-11
King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.”
But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”
Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.
Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. His own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Mark 6, 14-29
The women sang his praises and ascribed to him tens of thousands.
Sir 47, 8
Herodias’ own daughter came in and
performed a dance that delighted Herod
and his guests. The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish
and I will grant it to you.”
Mark 6, 22
When we study scripture, it’s not enough to sit back, relax and enjoy a story we’ve heard and heard again. If we do that we’re being passive, and to be passive around scripture is to miss out on a chance to see the Holy Spirit at work. Actually, it’s worse than that. To be passive with the scriptures is downright dangerous. Instead of being set free by the word of God, the passive reader finds himself, or herself, getting bound up by stale interpretations. Let me tell you a secret: the Bible isn’t about ‘back then’. The Bible is about ‘right now’. It’s not enough to look over the readings of the day; it’s necessary to allow the readings of the day to look you over.
Today we see a depiction of women with which we’re all familiar. Women are joyfully voicing their appreciation of mighty men. Women are dancing, beautifully and artistically, at the service of men’s pleasure. The lives of women are being utilized to highlight the grandeur and accomplishments of the men who are making a splash in the world. Imagine what goes on with the passive reader. For such a reader, today’s passages provide a one-way ticket to ‘back then’. Instead of being buoyed up by the expansive and creative mastery that is divine love, he or she is constrained by the limitations of the past. To be passive is to be stuck, with no chance of release.
How can we be released from a bondage to the past? I would like you to consider, for a moment, our own sun. It is, of course, unimaginably old. Just the same, though, it’s not the great age of the sun that matters to us. What matters to us is the light, and the warmth, and the energy it is producing in the present moment. The sun has been around more than four and a half billion years, but our concern is with what it has done in the last ten minutes. The sun is ‘right now’. So is scripture.
Today’s reading from Sirach tells us of God’s glory made manifest when David slew Goliath. The words of the passage haven’t changed in the 2200 years since they were first penned. We could be passive and imagine that our reading experience is identical to the experience our great-great-great grandparents had when they were exposed to a story that was already very old. The alternative is to be active. Don’t be satisfied merely to search the scriptures – allow the scriptures to search you. You’re the text. You’re the glory of God made manifest.
There are Goliaths to slay in the present age but we know that these days the women aren’t merely a ‘song and dance act’. Today’s Goliaths are being slain by women every bit as much are they are being slain by men. Women themselves are the instruments of God’s glory and when they sing God’s praises they can sing about their own mighty deeds. How do we know this? Where is it written? It can’t be found when we read scripture. It is found when scripture reads us – our life experience, our hopes and aspirations, our witness to the work God is doing ‘right now’.
God is building a kingdom and She (He?) is using us to do the building. God has called my mother, my wife, my sister and my daughter to be joyful instruments of the New Creation. Where is the music they are called to play? How can I learn to accompany them? Our instructions are in today’s reading, but we’re going to miss them if we’re passive readers.
Today’s Psalm concludes, Therefore will I proclaim you, O LORD among the nations, and I will sing praise to your name. I propose that we can do more than meditate on David’s victories as a prompt to sing God’s praise. My suggestion, today, is that you allow God to open your eyes to the mighty deeds that have been done when women have been the instruments. Perhaps you will wonder, where does this come from? Which verse, which phrase? Why haven’t I heard this before?
Passive readers have two responses to scriptural reflection: “I knew that already” and “That’s crazy!” When you’re passive, your mind is geared to reject anything that is new. The Bible is old, so anything new must be off the mark. What the passive read today is the same thing that they read yesterday. They’re sure that they’ve already taken in the entire store of spirituality.
God is looking to further an ongoing dialogue with you, but that’s not all. God is engaging in a dialogue with the entire world. You’re not going to be able to keep up if you’re not willing to be active when you read the scriptures. All you’ll ever find is a tired rehash of ideas you’ve tried out already. Passive readings of scripture constrict spiritual development. So do readings taken in isolation. God is shining new light with an old light fixture. It’s not enough that it brightens up your life. You must find a way to brighten up the lives of others.
How can I know if I’ve been active with my scripture reading? How can I know that what I’m getting is fresh and true? The hallmark of spiritual activity is joy. Staleness can never provoke joy. Joy thrives on what is fresh, and what is authentic. Joy will prompt your soul to dance before the scriptures, and your dance partner is always teaching you new steps.