“Mourning into Dancing”
A message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isle Church – UCC
February 27, 2022
Psalm 30 NRSV
1I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
5For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
6As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face; I was dismayed.
8To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:
9“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
11You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
I want to tell you something outrageous – at least to me. There are people who think I can’t dance! Even worse there are people who say I can’t dance. And I even had one person – a friend even – TOLD me I can’t dance. Rev. Vicki Hamilton, a colleague, who happens to be black once saw me dancing and said, “unhnn, honey, you too white, you can’t dance; stop before you hurt yourself.”
I hit my late teens and twenties in the disco era. Everybody could dance to that. I cut my musical teeth on the swing band music of the 40’s – that was real dancing! Now, I’ll admit I can’t do the Charleston or the Lindy or some of those great dances from that time; and I’m no John Travolta in his “Saturday Night Fever” days. But I always thought I had a pretty good step, for a white boy. So this revelation from my colleague, that I couldn’t dance was quite, well, embarrassing.
This morning’s text announces that God will turn our mourning into dancing. The writer speaks of real pain, of real suffering, but still speaks praise for God. He still expresses faith, and hope, and a confidence that God will bring good out of his pain. He begins praising God for drawing him up, bringing his soul of out of the garbage pit on the outskirts of Jerusalem – that’s what Sheol literally was – and healed him. His gratitude is one any of us who have known this kind of blessing, who have felt like God has rescued us, healed us, or helped us can relate to. But I am always careful to recognize that there are plenty of people who have been faithful, who have trusted God, who have done nothing to deserve “punishment” or to suffer, who have never been healed, who feel that they have been cast out into the pit and never rescued.
So I want to use this Psalm carefully. I don’t want to pretend to pass judgement on anyone who has cried out and not heard God’s answer. I don’t want to suggest that someone struggling with mental health issues just needs to “think differently” or especially seem to say it is their fault or due to a lack of faith. I am struck by that line that promises that God will turn our mourning into dancing. And I want to share two thoughts on that phrase.
The first thought I had is that sometimes we have to dance while we mourn. Sometimes while we are still struggling we need to dance. And that dance might not be a joyful, high-kicking, can-can like a Paris showgirl, or a New York Radio City Music Hall Rockette. The beautiful thing about dancing is that it really doesn’t matter if you can dance or can’t dance. It doesn’t matter if you are happy as Snoopy dancing on his doghouse. If you are struggling with life, with issues of depression, anxiety, addiction, or any of a hundred other things, you can dance and no one can say you can’t dance. I hereby give you permission because I dance. I’ve danced with joy and with a heart full of happiness, but bad as I may be, I also know the dance of pain and fear and worry and heartbreak. It’s a different dance, but you can dance even when healing, or hope, or joy seem like a distant dream.
Your dance may be as simple as finding a way to get up in the morning. It might be swaying to the silent rhythm of simply showering and dressing and putting one foot in front of another one more day. That’s your dance and no one gets to judge you. This dance is more eloquent than anything those judges on TV have ever commented on. That’s a dance called the survival dance. That’s the “Until Dance.” You can dance until God does lift you up out of the pit, you dance the Until Dance until you can find hope. Dance even if it is just in your mind. That dance is truly a prayer even if you don’t utter a word while you mentally dance. Dance even while you mourn. Dance and maybe allow yourself to hope for a time when you can praise God as the Psalm writer does for rising up out of the pit, for being able to sing praise to God, and give thanks to his holy name. I hope you can do it knowing that “weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” And if someone you know is hurting, struggling, mourning in some way, maybe you can find a way to invite them to dance.
And that leads me to the second thing I want to offer you. I want to offer you the thought that dancing is as human as breathing. You don’t have to be able to do someone else’s steps, or qualify for someone else’s definition of dancing. I believe our souls dance even if our feet never do. I believe life itself is a dance and that breathing is the music of dancing. I want to suggest to you that if you can’t dance any other way keep breathing and as you breath you are in fact, dancing with God. Let me tell you why I say that.
Sandra Thurman Caporale wrote, “There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what his name is. God was gracious enough to answer and the name he gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as YHWH. Over time we’ve arbitrarily added an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH, presumably because we have a preference for vowels.
But scholars and rabbis have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants. When pronounced without intervening vowels, it actually sounds like breathing: YH [ inhale ], WH [ exhale ]. So a baby’s first breath, speaks the name of God. A deep sigh calls God’s name – or a groan or a gasp that is too heavy for mere words speaks God’s name. Even an atheist speaks God’s name, unaware that his very breathe is giving constant acknowledgement to God.
Likewise, a person leaving this earth with their last breath, when God’s name is no longer filling their lungs, speaks God’s name. Just to breath, to be alive is to pray, to speak God’s name. Being alive means I speak God’s name constantly. Perhaps I speak that name loudest when I’m the quietest! In sadness we breath heavy sighs. In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst. In fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we are about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage.
When you think about it, breathing is giving God praise, even in the hardest moments! This is so beautiful and fills me with emotion every time I grasp the thought. God chose to give a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we are alive. All of us, always, everywhere, waking or sleeping, breathing, with the name of God on our lips. And remember the word for spirit in Hebrew – ruach – is the word for breathe! We breathe the Spirit and God’s Spirit is breathe!
I think the breath we breathe is just as truly the dance of life. To live is to breath is to dance. If we can keep breathing we keep speaking God’s name and hopefully soon our mourning will turn to a dance of joy, of new life, of blessing God’s name for lifting our soul out of the pit. Until that time, keep breathing. Dance your dance. Weeping may last a night, but joy comes in the morning. This is the truth people of faith have spoken for centuries and that fact is what our hope is built on – the truth of centuries of God’s people who have faced every reason to mourn imaginable. And they came out proclaiming God’s healing, God’s salvation. That is the rhythm of our dancing! AMEN.