The worship service for this weekend is the second in our series about things we can learn from the life of Jesus, that may help us in these grey lock-down times.
Learning Time: Attending to your dreams
A writer named Lance Weller dreamed he was on a street, and a sleek black town car pulled up to the curb. A tinted window powered down, and the person in the car called him over. It was Ronald Reagan, former Hollywood actor who was the President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, and who died in 2004. In the dream, Reagan escorted Lance to a comic book shop stocked with every title he had ever wanted. Before he could buy anything, Reagan stole his wallet and skipped out the door.
That story is from a National Geographic piece about Covid dreams. There have been serious studies done, and articles written about the strange dreams people are having during the pandemic.
Last spring I recorded an interview with my old friend Justin Webber, who is the pastor of a Quaker congregation in Iowa. Justin was the first person in his county diagnosed with Covid-19, and spent almost two months in the hospital, including some time in a coma, time on a ventilator, and a long recovery in the ICU. He is still working hard to return to his former levels of fitness and health.
He came through the first part of his ordeal with a deeper faith, and a wider appreciation for the ways God is at work in people- especially in folks who don’t think much about religion, or God, as we talk about God in church.
Justin told me that during his time in the hospital, and since then, he’s had wild dreams.
Psychologists, mystics, and poets agree that almost everybody dreams. How about you? Do you have dreams? Do you remember them? Have your dreams changed since the pandemic began?
Today we heard excerpts from the Book of Genesis, about Joseph, one of the most famous dreamers in the Bible. His dreams caused trouble with his brothers, who were already jealous of him. When they heard he dreamed of being someone they would all kneel before, they got rid of him.
It’s quite a story. No wonder it made a good musical.
My wife and I lived in Windsor, from 1995 to 2000. We both pastored churches. I was involved in a number of out-of-the-box experiments, in the ongoing effort to connect the church to the world, and people to the church and its mission. One of the most fun things I instigated was to charter a City of Windsor bus, and fill it with people who all went to the Masonic in Detroit, to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring Donny Osmond. It was a great show. Did any of you see it?
Joseph’s brothers faked his death, and sold him to slave-traders, who hauled him off to Egypt. That might have been the end of Joseph, except that he helped people with their dreams. He became a trusted confidante of the Pharoah, who put him in charge of running the country.
Joseph’s dreams helped him through his times of personal crisis, and he helped the Pharaoh steer his country through a disaster. He saved his own family from starvation, when his brothers came to Egypt in search of food, and they did end up bowing down to him, just like in his dream.
One of Joseph’s brothers was Judah, who’s listed in the Bible as an ancestor of another Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. We might wonder why the Gospels would include Joseph’s family tree, if he was not actually related to Jesus by flesh and blood- but we’re not sorting out that one today.
We heard the part of Matthew’s Gospel in which Mary’s Joseph, distant descendant of the Donny Osmond Joseph, had a dream. God told him not to worry about the flesh and blood business, and go ahead and marry the pregnant Mary, and raise the child as his own. Joseph followed this dreamy advice, and another crisis was averted.
We also heard about 2 more warning dreams. The Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were guided in a dream not to travel back to Herod and tell him where to find the child.
Joseph had another dream, that warned him to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt, to avoid the murderous plans of Herod.
In the Bible, God doesn’t just send angels, to tell people to not be afraid. Sometimes, people meet God in their dreams, and discover things that help them through hard times.
Not all dreams are about the future. Most dreams call the person to be who God wants them to be.
This makes sense to me. God is always with us, and always giving us clues, offering guidance, about how we are to live, and letting us know we are not alone. For most of us, it’s a question of learning how to pay attention. If this is true while we are awake, could it also apply when we are sleeping?
I’ve long been fascinated with dreams, other peoples, and my own. I’ve had some training on how to work, and play with dreams. One of my teachers is a man named Rodger Kamenetz. In his book, The History of Last Night’s Dream, he wrote:
“A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely. We glimpse and barely remember. Or we don’t understand what we’ve seen.
A third of our time on earth we’ve spent sleeping, with little to show: an image, a face. Only rarely does a dream come that wakes us to ourselves.”
Rodger is a critically renowned author and poet, best known for a book he wrote about his time with the Dalai Lama.
I met Rodger at a writer’s conference 6 years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. In 2017 I went to New Orleans for a workshop he lead in what he calls Natural Dreamwork. I like his approach, which is different from all the books and websites where you go to a big index, and look it up, and some expert tells you what it means, that you had a dream about a big blue cat that plays the drums.
Rodger wrote, “Instead of puzzling over what your dreams mean, we ask you to dwell on how your dreams feel.”
In my own work I have learned that for many people, if they keep paper and pen on their bedtable, and tell themselves that they want to remember, pretty soon they can get up in the morning, and make simple notes about their dreams. How did the dream feel? What were the colours, images, sounds? Who was in it? Was there a story?
When I prepared for the dream worskshop, I kept a daily dream journal. Over the course of a month, I got pretty good at remembering my dreams, and noticed I often had variations of the same dream, again and again.
Through the prayer journal, I noticed an image in my dreams, and discovered something I still think about, that I needed to know, that has made a big difference in my life.
Practitioners of Natural Dreamwork teach that contemplating the images in your dreams, and paying attention to how they make you feel, can help heal the broken imagination.
In this strange time, many of us are living with a kind of baseline of worry, anxiety, distrust of the world. It is not surprising, then, that those who are studying covid dreams are hearing about scary dreams, and frightening images in dreams.
Some people believe our dreams are a place where we kind of go over the material of our daily lives, and almost like an artist making a painting, or a movie director, we move the images around, play with them, until they tell a story that says something, or asks a question, or maybe somehow answers a question or concern we have.
I love the idea that God’s spirit is in there with us, helping design the set, and giving the character costumes and lines, so that we can watch the movie, or actually be in the movie, that is from us, without necessarily being directly about us.
I am not a big fan of scary movies, but I have heard some people like them because they allow them to confront things they are afraid of, in a way that is safe, and survivable.
I generally don’t have scary dreams, but I do have dreams in which sad, or confusing things happen. One I have been having lately is I am traveling, usually walking through a town, and I don’t recognize the streets, and can’t figure out where I am going, and sometimes even forget that I was trying to go anywhere at all.
The feeling of that dream is not hard for me to recognize. I wake up everyday, to life in this covid world, and wonder when the virus will run its course, or be eradicted, or we will all get vaccinated so it has nowhere left to thrive. Because I am not in charge, or privy to the facts about when that will happen, I can have this feeling, of being lost, in a world that I don’t understand, or control.
Having the dream, and thinking that in some way, God is dreaming it with me, I feel like that deep feeling inside me has been noticed, and understood. I may not be able to fully explain the dream in words, but God is with me, God knows what I am going through, and God understands. Thanks be to God. Amen