Taking Delight

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, July 12, 2015

II Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

Summer breath:
heavily scented with a note of smoke;
freshened by a blue sky breeze
and laughing yellow
tickling our senses awake

Summer is a time of awakening. Spring has dug us out of our task-driven winter mode and plopped us into the delightful season of the senses—sometimes overly delightful for those of us with allergies. I am taking an introductory online course in Buddhism with Pema Chodron and we are learning how to awaken as we pay attention to each of our senses. Next week I’ll speak more about how Buddhism can deepen our Christian understanding of self-care. But for today, the beginning steps of Buddhist teaching can help to connect us to our Hebrew roots. These steps ask us simply to notice the stimulation of our senses and emotions.

Our Hebrew ancestors in the faith seemed to be much more aware of the sensual component of faith than we Protestants are. Their worship included burnt offerings and the use of percussive instruments that called the worshippers into clapping, bowing and dancing with all their might. They delighted in their worship of God and believed that God delighted in them. Imagine God taking delight in us!

Our lectionary reading describes the ecstasy in which King David and the entire nation of Israel danced as they accompanied the ark of God into the City of David. We think that this ark of the covenant was a wooden chest with elaborate, golden decorations that were added to it over the course of time. Inside the chest were the tablets of stone on which the ten commandments were inscribed. A tent, called the tabernacle, was placed over the ark to protect it. Within this tented tabernacle the presence of God was understood to reside. Wherever the ark was moved, so God’s presence of blessing followed. Even Israel’s enemies believed this, explaining why the Philistines stole the ark. However, the Philistines found that the presence of a foreign God in their midst was causing curse upon curse, not blessing, and they conveniently arranged for the Hebrews to take it back.

This is the back story to the joyful procession of the ark into Jerusalem, the City of David. King David was so caught up in frenzied dancing, that he disrobed down to a loincloth as he danced with all his might (I’m reminded of some of the dancers at the folk festival this weekend). One of his wives was rather distraught with his behaviour and dress, or lack thereof, but David remained unabashed; God seemed pleased.

I was curious as to how our staid Protestant preachers of our Presbyterian and Methodist traditions would have interpreted this sensual passage and came across this quote from John Wesley in reference to this passage, “Public joy should always be as before the Lord, with an eye to him, and terminating in him. Otherwise it is no better than public madness, and the source of all manner of wickedness.”[1] That’s as joyful a response to this scandalous passage as Wesley was able to muster.

Perhaps we can do a bit better. Do you delight in God’s creation? I have literally been stopped in my tracks by spectacular full moons, blood suns, torrential storms, sun-drenched fields ablaze with wild flowers and aflutter with song birds and butterflies. I have taken delight in watching children take delight in the smallest things—a piece of fluff, a stranger’s smile.

Just for a moment, think about something in which you have taken great delight. Go back into that moment of delight. What did you see? What did you hear? What did you smell? What did you feel? What did delight feel like? Did you feel lighter? a little less stressed? a little more appreciative?

It is not a waste of time to take pause in our delight. We may even find scriptural warrant for it. When we take pause, we allow ourselves to fully experience the moment; we immerse ourselves in the delight of our senses. When we do this, something unexpected might happen to us. The more fully we are able to be present in the moment of our delight, the more we are able to lose the heaviness of worry, even of pain. We might even find a spark of gratitude ignited—gratitude to the Creator for the utter beauty of it all, gratitude for the gift of companionship.

At the end of the day, my partner and I will often ask each other, “What did you delight in today?” It’s a spiritual practice that grants a contented gratitude, lulling us into sleep.

In a previous sermon I have quoted to you an excerpt from a poem by e. e. cummings. I will close today by reading this poem in its entirety so that it can take us fully into the delight of creation and its Creator. (i thank You God for most this amazing day…)

[1] John Wesley, Wesley’s Notes on the Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.ii.xi.vii.ii.html