Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dancing, Women, and Prophets

The oldest Christian tradition, quite possibly formulated within the first decade from Jesus’ crucifixion, is the Christological hymn that Paul quotes in Philippians 2: 5-11. Hebrew Bible scholars agree that the oldest tradition from Ancient Israel, quite possibly already circulating a generation or two from the Exodus event, is found in the book of Exodus. Chapter 15: 20-21 to be exact. Let me read it in its entirety….
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the LORD,
for God is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
God has hurled into the sea
This passage, over three thousand years old, challenges many of our most cherished practices and traditions. First, the main characters in this oldest poem are women. Not men. Second, their faith expression is dancing, not preaching. Third, their leader is a prophet, not a priest; a woman, not a man; Miriam, not Moses.
Let me say it again: In this most ancient Old Testament account, we have women, we have dancing, and we have a prophet, Miriam. Dancing is one of the oldest forms of worship. Dance is a language of faith. Melinda Grace Aoanan once said: “To sing to to pray twice. To dance, on the other hand, is to pray three times!” To dance is to celebrate the cycles and circles of life. To dance is to offer thanksgiving for babies born and loved ones departed, for bountiful harvests and sweet-smelling rice, for dreams realized and abundant life for all. To dance, in Miriam and the women’s case, was to celebrate God’s liberating acts. DANCE IS A LANGUAGE OF FAITH.
Remember this, my friends. A people enslaved for centuries find themselves free. Yahweh had delivered them. God had heard their cries. God had come down to liberate them. God had accomplished what God had promised. And what is the first thing they do to celebrate their deliverance? THEY DANCE.
God continues to deliver people from bondage. God continues to liberate those who are imprisoned. God continues to hear the cries of the poor and of those whose only hope is God. And what are we supposed to do to celebrate God’s continuing liberating acts?