David, Dancing, and Dresses

2 Samuel 6:16-23

He’s not just a leader; he’s a king, for goodness sake, with a plate full of responsibilities and every reason to act reserved in the public eye for the sake of avoiding controversy and maintaining appearances. Carrying out the monumental task of transporting the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, David goes against his director of public relations’ probable plea for tempered conduct and proceeds to lead a processional into the city lacking any semblance of inhibition — leaping and dancing his way before the Lord and in front of everyone in less than modest clothing for a king. While David’s joy on the street below could not be interrupted, Michal, the daughter of Saul (a.k.a. the former ruler from whom David took power), gazed out her window and upon David with shock and contempt — in disbelief that a king should act this way, look this way, move this way.

Over the course of his life, David had to wrestle with his identity and who he was expected to be as he went from humble shepherd to ruling king. As such, he was required to accept labels and assume roles in an effort to appease God’s will and the masses. It is clear, however, that Michal was not appeased by this shocking expression of an unkempt king, revealing himself in a seemingly unhinged way for all to witness.

In 2 Samuel, we read about David’s dancing, Michal’s disapproval, and the subsequent dialogue between them. As we hear this passage, I would invite us to consider the question: who does God expect us to be?

Congregational Response

Question: Who does God expect us to be?

  • God expects us to reflect the image of God.
  • God expects us to take seriously how we treat one another.
  • We are expected to share the Gospel; our core identity is a spiritual one with a spiritual task.
  • God calls us to be joyful and to express ourselves in a way that is conducive to joyousness.
  • We are called to love God in the name of holy embarrassment.
  • God expects us to be ourselves.

Theological Reflection 

Sherenté Harris is a Two Spirit, Native American dancer and queer activist of the Narragansett Tribe — the descendants of the people Indigenous to Rhode Island. In many Indigenous communities, to be Two Spirit refers to someone who does not identify with a gender binary but, rather, identifies as having both a masculine and feminine spirit. Having been assigned male at birth, Harris, who uses the gender neutral pronoun “they,” comes from a family of world champion dancers and began their own relationship with dancing in the tradition of their father — an Eastern war dancer of global renown. At age 16, though, after coming out as Two Spirit, Harris began to dance in their mother’s tradition and under her guidance — particularly, the Fancy Shawl dance, which is a contemporary style developed during the women’s rights movement.

In a TED talk hosted by the University of Rhode Island in 2019, Harris remarked, “This dance is a dance of liberation. Not just for me but for the entire LGBT community. And for that reason, I have gone out and danced, in the face of those who feel that I should not.” As is so tragically often the case for our LGBTQ kindred, Harris has been on the receiving end of discrimination and backlash because of their identity and how they express their identity through dance. This has not deterred their pursuit of authentic expression but, rather, has fueled their determination to dance the dance that is truest to their soul — inspiring other queer youth to be true to who they are despite others’ expectations of who they should be.

Now in their 20s, Harris opened their TED talk with this statement: “Within my life as an Indigenous, Two Spirit youth, the most controversial act I’ve ever committed was being myself.” In spite of the backlash and prejudice-fueled controversy in the face of their non-conformity to gender norms, Harris has been and continues to be a beacon of hope for youth and adults alike as an example of what it means to live out from the depths of our being and to embody a spirituality that is in line with our most genuine identity. Through dance and storytelling, for that is what dance represents to them, Harris reminds us all to work towards a future where being oneself is not the subject of controversy but the cause for gratitude and celebration as a vehicle of liberation itself. They remind us that healthy spirituality is wrapped up in our authenticity.

In 2 Samuel, as the Ark of the Covenant was being transported to Jerusalem, we read that David danced before the Lord in a procession of joy and lowered inhibition. Cynics might argue it performative, like the clanging of symbols on the street corner all for the sake of attention. Critics might argue it irresponsible and irreverent even, as disrespecting the status quo of who a king is expected to be and how a king is expected to act. But some scholars suggest that this display of dance and play was David at his most authentic, his most spiritual — stripping away the layers of titles, transgressions, and responsibilities until all that is left is a man and his love for God, free from insecurity and self suppression.

In the previous verses before this passage, we read that David put on a linen ephod before dancing his way into Jerusalem. Now, an ephod is a sleeveless garment, almost like an apron or smock, that Jewish high priests would wear over their clothes as a vestment for rites and rituals and other spiritual purposes. However, it was not considered to be a complete outfit on its own for it would be considered quite revealing. Yet, David decides that he is going to wear a linen ephod, and from Michal’s shocked reaction to how David “uncovered himself…as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself,” we can deduce that David was likely dancing and leaping before the Lord while only wearing this sleeveless smock and nothing else.

For David, we read that this was an act of humbling himself before God and the people. It makes sense, too, because wearing only this scant garment used for spiritual purposes meant that David was literally stripped of adornment, stripped of all the pomp and circumstance of David, the King, until it was just David, the man. When David is accused of uncovering himself by wearing this scandalous outfit, I wonder if this represents David not just literally uncovering his body but figuratively uncovering his soul, as well. I wonder if this was an act of revealing his true self — a self that wears what is essentially a sun dress and dances to the beat of his authenticity regardless of the controversy that might follow; a self that declares, “I will dance before the Lord;” a self that finds favor in God’s eyes for his daring to be true.

Who does God expect us to be? How could love expect us to be anything but ourselves? — for the truest expression of spirituality is the expression of our truest self. And when we have the courage to express our truest self, we not only liberate ourselves but give others permission to do the same: to liberate the body from the constraints of expectation and shame, to liberate the mind from the voices that say keep to the script and keep silent, to liberate the spirit from the conviction that we could be anything other than loved by God. What is liberation, after all, but the freedom to be who we are and regarded with love.

The truest expression of spirituality is the expression of our truest self, and that is who God expects us and calls us to be — inviting us to claim our identity as beloved not in spite of who we are but because of who we are, dancing and dresses and all.

May we dance the dance of genuineness, the dance that is truest to our souls, inviting all to join in with the dance truest to theirs. And may we know that who we truly are at the core of our beloved being is all God ever expects us to be.