by Danae M. Ashley
As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
–1 Samuel 18:6-7
David’s return from killing the Philistine seems like an Old Testament musical. As the army approaches, word in the village spreads. The gossip begins with spoken word that turns into song with one instrument, then another, and finally, by the time David reaches the village, it is a full-blown musical!
We do not often hear about revelry and merry-making as a positive thing in Church history. Instead, it is seen as something that pagans do and is used to show how Christians are different. Debauchery and over indulgence that is harmful to self and possibly others? Yes, I can see that as something to differentiate Christians from the antics of the Romans. Revelry at appropriate times and in a responsible way to celebrate like we hear in this story of David’s triumph? Maybe such revelry might be a positive way to respond to God’s gifts.
Celebrations and festivals where merry-making occurs also builds community and gives anchors for cultural traditions to form. Think about birthdays. Do you have special foods you eat and particular things you do for family birthdays? What about celebrations in the life of the church? Our liturgical calendar has rich traditions for different seasons and feast days, including rituals, music, foods, colors, and outfits. There are also many festive traditions in the diverse nations and peoples of the world that shape a group’s identity through special foods, clothing, dancing, songs, and rituals. It is fascinating to link a community’s celebrations to their identity – how celebrations reflect who they are and what they believe.
Merry-making can be a way for us to take the joy and excitement that is bursting from inside us and express it externally within these frameworks of tradition. It is like a sacrament with a small ‘s’ – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace—joy that is a gift from God. I find that the desire for celebration within community comes from the love that God has for us, spilling over so that it needs a larger container than just one person. To revel in the deep joy brought when we experience the gifts of God is no small thing. It requires celebration!
How and what are you celebrating this summer? Will it be like our Old Testament musical or a bit more low key? Regardless of how you participate in your revelry, I hope you feel God’s joy and celebration for you each and every day.
The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is serving part-time as the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC. She has written for a number of publications, produced a play, and has been featured on several podcasts regarding fertility struggle and faith. Danae’s favorite past times include reading, traveling with her husband, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.