One of the darkest stories of the Bible deals with a young woman, Salome, who dances before her stepfather Herod Antipas at a lavish banquet (Mark 6:14-29). That dance cost John the Baptist his head. It is assumed that she danced lewdly, seductively, mesmerizing Herod and his guests. The details are left to the imagination. Mark tells us the tale, however, to give us a sense of the political machinations and palace intrigues that led to the deaths of both Jesus and his cousin John. Dancing is not the problem. The young Salome is only a pawn in these games. The poignant thing is how John the Baptist had awoken the long-dead conscience of Herod Antipas. The prophet was jailed for having criticized the divorce and remarriage of Salome’s mother. But he was being kept alive because Herod wanted to hear him preach and feared the word of God that John was bringing into his palace. He came close to joining in the dance of love that Jesus was about to give our world.
The lectionary places the story of Salome’s dance right next to the Old Testament lesson regarding King David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant (II Samuel 6:12-19). David was as scantily dressed as Salome, but his motivations were pure. Again, the dance is not the problem. Instead, we see the political ambitions of Saul’s daughter, Michal. She publicly criticizes David. She thinks his spirituality is getting in the way of his being a great king. “This is not the thing kings do.” Her finger wags at the way David allows his emotions into his religion. Since ancient times, dancing has been the way that ordinary people express their freedom, their love for each other, and their spiritual joy.
In the Bible, the word “dance” is also used to describe the play of children (Matthew 11:17). As adults, we often allow our cynical worldview and ambitions to squeeze out the dance of joy, faith, and our love for each other. This came home to be on the 4th of July. Our beloved dog, Haley, was frightened by the fireworks. I put an Abba CD on the stereo and cranked up the volume. It drowned out the neighbor’s cherry bombs. I began to dance. The dog looked at me cynically, but I won her over. Afterward, I felt better too.