Tag Archives: dreams

Listen to dreams: They might show the way out of this mess

dreams.
“The Way Home” by Shaun Tan (2011) – click for background

I woke up with a vivid dream Saturday morning after a good night’s sleep away from the troubles of the rehab project that has made me a vagabond for the last few weeks. As it turns out, many other people have been dreaming more lately, too — having “coronavirus dreams” now that the stay-at-home has given them more time to get some rest. It’s possible that whole communities or even societies may wake up to something new after we’ve processed what is happening to us during this strange time. I hope it is like waking up to healing and new possibilities.

My dream was full of symbolism and used situations reminiscent of my binge-watch of Sanditon. My memory of the dream begins with saying goodbye to a young protégé as she hops on the bus. I’m worried about her. But she is looking to her future and so interested in what is happening on the bus she doesn’t even wave goodbye.

I go on to my own train, standing in line to go underground. I realize I am in the wrong line and need to run across the street to go the other direction. As I go down the stairs, I have to ask a young man behind me to keep his social distance. I say I will get my mask out and wear it. Then I realize I do not have it because I do not have my briefcase.

I go up to street level and vainly look around until I see a briefcase across the street where I had been in line. There is a collection of them there, but none are mine. Now I am afraid I will not be able to get home, since my briefcase is the “command center.” But then I realize I took my wallet out and it is in my back pocket. At that point I realize I did not even bring my other bag with my clothes. I feel better after I comfort myself with the thought that I won’t need anything in the bags, since it was all worn out and I was intending to replace it, anyway.

My unconscious needs a long sleep to help me process my confused feelings about the period of change I am in! I’d like to be home. In my case, it is my actual new home that is not habitable yet. But it is also a new home for my next life, to which I am traveling. Dreams about going home are often the signs of spiritual development going on. We are built with a longing for Home that keeps reminding us we are on a journey through time. At this point on the journey, I am saying goodbye to attractive parts of me. I am negotiating with ignorant parts of me. I am dealing with anxious parts of me. I am comforted by the sense that I am carrying the most important part of me as I move into what is next. What’s more, I already feel I can let go of much of what I am losing.

Oprah
Chainsaw sculpture of Oprah. (click for background)

Oprah with a chainsaw

That heading is part of the title of Alfred Lubran’s article from the April 23, 2020 Inquirer.

In a person’s dream, Oprah Winfrey deploys a squad of bruisers into the streets to scare up an audience for her show. Her studio is a giant warehouse transformed into a hospital, with mattresses placed six feet apart. Opening the program with upbeat patter, Oprah offers a special surprise: She revs up a chainsaw and cuts off the heads of everyone in the audience.

The Oprah dream was one Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher from Harvard Med School, collected by surveying 2,000 people throughout the world regarding Covid-19 since March 23. It reflects how we are living now: the feeling of being imprisoned that derives from being quarantined; the fear that something unspeakably bad is happening; the endlessly uttered admonishment to maintain six feet of distance from everyone else. I had a few of those themes in my dream, too!

Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been funneling anxiety into our dreams. Even though we’re asleep, thoughts of the coronavirus continue to spark in our brains. “COVID-19 is worrying our dreaming mind like our waking mind,” Barrett says. “Dreaming is thinking, only in a different state. It’s more emotional, less linear.” Our unconscious process is not censored for logic or appropriateness in the same way our conscious process is.

Joannie Yeh, a pediatrician from Media, had a virus-linked dream not long ago set in the Conshohocken IKEA, a favorite spot her family visited for hours on Saturdays.

In her dream, the store was closing, and she suddenly realized no one was wearing a mask or standing six feet apart. “It was strange because I was concerned, yet I was so happy to be there,” she said. “It felt nice to be among people again.”

A couple of elements didn’t add up in Mark Berman’s dream, either. A South Philadelphia graphic designer, he has a fear of heights.

Yet, in his subconscious, he was hiking along a snowy cliff — and smiling. Suddenly, he fell, but he caught hold of a ledge that saved his life. Soon enough, Berman found himself harnessed, first being yanked upward, then learning how to climb on his own. He accelerated as he ascended the cliff, which turned into the balconies at the Academy of Music. “A voice in my head was saying, ‘You’ll get through this,’ ” Berman said. “ ‘Just pull yourself up.’ ”

More sleeping means more dreaming

What Barrett is learning from her survey is that people are recalling more dreams than they ever have, and that the dreams seem more emotionally charged. Because many of us are sheltering in place and not working, we sleep longer. The longer sleep means more dreams and more memories of them. Dreams are loaded into sleep later in the night. We dream every 90 minutes when we go into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each REM period of dreaming lengthens the more hours we sleep. So, if we sleep eight hours, the last REM period (the sixth or seventh overall in the night) is the longest, and can last for 30 minutes. “Typically,” Barrett said, “our last REM is when we have the most vivid dreams. The longer we sleep, the more intensively we’re catching up on our dreams.”

In her survey, people had either literal dreams that depicted precise aspects of the virus, or metaphorical ones that reflected the panic and chaos people are experiencing. She heard from dreamers who saw themselves get infected, then become unable to breathe. They sought medical help but couldn’t make it to the hospital. The biggest cluster of metaphoric dreams was about bugs, Barrett said: writhing worms, advancing cockroaches, grasshoppers chomping with vampire fangs. “We use the word bug to describe an unseen sickness,” Barrett said. That’s likely why we dream of them attacking.

By far the worst dreams Barrett discovered were endured by health-care professionals: “They were full-on, classic trauma nightmares.” Doctors and nurses were unable to slide tubes down patients’ throats. Ventilators choked to a halt. Injections became impossible as every needle broke. In some cases, patients turned into zombies who attacked anyone with a face mask. Other virus victims had to be chained to beds to keep them from killing neighbors. Doctors felt huge guilt in their dreams, as though they’d infected patients.

In one of the worst images, Barrett said, an Italian physician trying to get a better angle to intubate a patient stood on the hospital bed and lost his balance. He fell out the window, grabbing the patient who plunged with him. On the street, the doctor emerged without a scratch, but the patient had been beheaded.

“Healthcare givers’ dreams look as bad as a wartime population’s,” Barrett said. “They were uniformly horrible, and there was not a single mastery dream among them where they helped the patient live.” It is no wonder that many healthcare workers are already imagining a time “after the war” when they can get out of uniform for good!

The gift of dreams

Dreams can feel horrible or wonderful, or both in the course of a few minutes. It helps to discuss them. Parents will help their children if they take the time to listen. Instead of dismissing “bad” dreams or saying, “Don’t pay attention to them,” it is better to share them. Sharing in a safe place can defang them, if needed. The more we talk about our dreams, the better we understand them and the better we can deal with the stress they often represent.

In the Bible, as you probably know, dreams are often the place where people are given prophetic words or direction in the middle of distressing situations. Think of Joseph in prison (waking up, above) or Joseph and the holy family about to be hunted by Herod. Sometimes people wonder why no one seems to get these spiritually-supercharged dreams anymore. For one thing, they do get them. For another, Deirdre Barrett might remind us, people don’t sleep like they used to sleep. Their mindspace has been colonized by Dreamworks.

Lately, our pastors have been dreaming about who we are as the church in the new era that may follow the lockdown. These six distressing weeks, and counting, have also provided some space to dream as a whole community. As in my dream, I think we are seeing what we have that is most important. The pastor team and our other leaders and staff have been gelling in new ways and seeing the future in new ways. Our businesses got clobbered and will re-emerge in new ways. I hope the whole society feels chastened and comes back with a new look at reality after we see what callous capitalism has done to the poor, the sick and the imprisoned, and we see what our incompetent and strangely uncaring leaders are really doing in Washington, while the local and state leaders come through for us.

Maybe you are not privileged to start dreaming positive dreams yet. Your dreams may be more filled with trauma than with a bright future. I can certainly understand that. I hope you are finding a place to talk them over in your cell, your family, or with your pastor or therapist. The final end of the virus nightmare is uncertain, but that end will surely come.

If you feel unsuccessful at turning into a new mindset or dealing with your anxiety you can still have moments when you join in the community’s dreams. There is something new forming among us (maybe even in the whole country). I don’t think anyone is left out of it. Even if parts of us seem to be going in all sorts of directions and the cityscape of our insides is full of threats, the message to me was that the riches I need are still in my back pocket. We’ll make it home if we stay on the way of Jesus.

Is the movement finally starting? Keep praying and pushing.

When Donald Trump was elected, I hoped it was the final straw to break the power of delusion choking so many people here in the last days of the Empire. There is some evidence this week that my hope was not in vain. The Spirit of God is moving among us and in our region and people are waking up. Things are happening that remind me of the stories I have heard about Jesus appearing to Muslims in places where it is illegal to even entertain the thought of becoming a Christian. People who can’t trust and are afraid to think are meeting Jesus personally in ways that change them forever.

Movement: the Spirit poured out
Acts 2:17

The movement of the Spirit in our church never really ground to a halt, but it seemed to slow so much, we began to wonder if we were missing something or doing something wrong. Our “flywheel” was slowing down and we realized we had better get behind it and do some pushing so the engine of our mission would get back to speed. We have been doing that and things are changing.

But there is only so much pushing one can do. The movement of the Spirit in a group or society is a mystery that is more about prayer than technique. So I have been praying for us and praying for our region, country and the whole desperate world. And I am not alone. Many of us have been drawn to pray and we have even started groups to do it together.

Evidence keeps popping up that something is starting. I almost don’t want to talk about it, lest I be wrong. But it is hard not to appreciate the possibility.

Cell mates of all kinds

For instance, my pastor, Rachel, could not contain herself last week and had to share the good things happening  in our cells:

  • She visited our Spanish-speaking cell and sensed the presence of God so strongly it made her “choke back tears.” The members were opening up about their lives, sharing real struggles and then praying for each other and reading the Bible together. For some of them, it was all brand new.
  • At her own cell, her host “shared a growing sense that Someone is leading her into a future that she doesn’t know yet, and she is actually excited about that, because she’s discovering that God has better things in store for her than she had for herself. She’s being surprised by hope.”
  • Then on her walk home, she ran into three of Jimmy & Zoe’s cell mates who looked like something good had just happened to them. They had just prayed with two friends who asked to receive Christ right there in their meeting.

A deluded millennial

About the same time, I was looking around YouTube for this video when I ran into this one by Steve Bancarz. I understand about zero why anyone would listen to a YouTube personality or how they get a following. But here is this guy who apparently made a living selling “new age” philosophies through his website. Then he had this remarkable experience with Jesus, gave it all up, and started his new internet business: debunking his old one.

I almost never get through a fifteen minute video, but this one intrigued me. When it was done, I felt it might be a scam. But evangelical outlets like Christian Post and Charisma have been telling the story too. His experience is like ones reported by Muslims, in which Jesus came to him and convinced him to change. I think his fundamentalist connections are serving him well as he gets over his drug use. It should be interesting to see how he moves on. Is this how Jesus is going to penetrate the despairing, enslaved, avoidant and cynical millennials?

A burned out evangelical

Movement from outside and in
Ocean waves and brain waves

Finally, I have been reading an “earth” book I keep recommending to people who don’t have faith, or who are interested in the new atheist arguments: Finding God in the Waves. It is about a Christian who lost his faith but who also had a life changing experience with God at the beach one night. He became “Science Mike” on the podcast from the group known as the  Liturgists  who say, “We create art and experiences for the spiritually homeless and frustrated.” (I have not listened their podcast, I admit).  Gungor is also a “Liturgist;” you can click his name and get a ticket to hear him on August 1 at 1125 S. Broad.

In Finding God in the Waves, Mike describes how science convinced him faith is not only possible, but preferable. Here is a quote about what he found most convincing:

“Trying to describe God is a lot like trying to describe falling in love. And that’s a serious problem for people who doubt that God is real…The unbelieving brain has no God construct, no neurological model for processing spiritual ideas and experiences in a way that feels real. This is why Bible stories and arguments for God’s existence will always sound like nonsense to a skeptic. For the unbeliever, God is truly absent from his or her brain. …

[Unlike how Christians tend to view solutions to doubt] neurotheology treats doubt as a neurological condition and would instead encourage people to imagine any God they can accept, and then pray or meditate on that God, in order to reorient the person’s neurobiological image of God back toward the experiential parts of the brain.…This insight was the most significant turning point in my return to God. I now knew I had to stop trying to perfect my knowledge of God and instead shift toward activities that would help me cultivate a healthy neurological image of God – secure in the knowledge that this network would help me connect with God and live a peaceful, helpful life.” 

It all amazes me. The desperate immigrants and illegals, the millions who are deluded by spirituality without Jesus, the science-laden who think their disciplines exclude the possibility of God, all of them popped up in my own experience with a story about Jesus coming to them in a way they never expected. And now they are joined around our own table in an odd way, celebrating the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Pray and push. Move with the movement. I can tell you are doing it, so all I can say is that I am with you as you pray and push. I am with you as we celebrate how Jesus transforms people who never expected to meet Him.

The pleasure of dreaming with God

Let’s consider how God might move us through a dream. Last night I talked a lot about dreaming in honor of Peter’s great outburst of enthusiasm as he quoted the prophet Joel to explain what the Holy Spirit of God had done in the gathered disciples on Pentecost.

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’ Acts 2:16-17 (from Joel 2:28)

Prophecy, visions and dreams are being poured out “upon all flesh” as God calls us back into the spiritual intimacy we were created to enjoy.

Scientists measure dreams

This reality is a bit off the grid for many of us. We have been trained to think our dreams, in particular, are a matter of predictable, physical processes we can measure — and it is true, researchers have been watching our dreams for a long time. The invention of the electroencephalograph allowed scientists to study sleep in ways that were not previously

Eugene Aserinsky measured dreams
Eugene Aserinsky

possible. During the 1950s, a graduate student named Eugene Aserinsky (along with others, but long live graduate students!) used this tool to discover what is known today as REM sleep. Further studies demonstrated how sleep progresses through a series of stages in which different brain wave patterns are displayed. We mainly dream during stage four when we experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep (also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep).

Continue reading The pleasure of dreaming with God

Good, Disturbing Dreams

My friend told me about a troubling dream the other day. He was disturbed by it. He was interpreting it according to his ordinary awareness—the same awareness he has about what he feels about his dinner choices or his latest review from the boss. So he was not completely excited when I became enthused about what he had dreamt. He initially thought I was taking his bad feelings lightly.

I thought his dream was a wonderful expression of his spiritual awareness, which I have had the privilege of watching as it developed. Just below the surface of his ordinary awareness, his dreams were holding the spiritual awareness of the great changes God was making in him. I think that God’s work in us is emanating from places too deep for us to be fully aware of. We can often spot what is happening and cooperate when his works rises as close to our ordinary awareness as our dreams.

In this case the dream seemed to be about the classic struggle to put together the competing and complementary elements of the gifts and desires we all contain. How can I be myself and serve? How can I do what I want and do what I should? How can I follow love and still tell the truth? How can I experience what I think I need and still give what I have to contribute? How can I leave my past behind and still be true to what I have become? In the words of Jesus: how can I lose my life and find it? It is no wonder that the dream felt disturbing! Spiritual birth pangs were sending an urgent message that something new was trying to be born.

I am wondering how many of my readers are experiencing similar disturbance? What are your dreams telling you? I have to say that I think our whole network has definitely experienced the surfacing of dreams lately – from Haddon and Fern’s emergence, to Frankford and Norris’ crowning new baby congregation, to the rumblings of newness at Broad and Washington. Several people have told me that they are aware that God is bringing about something new. Are you aware of it, too? Any dreamers care to share?

Pray and Not Faint…again

This morning, I woke up to one of those dreams with a cast of thousands. Gwen and I were going to some show at some stadium and I had a part in it. But I had forgotten my script in the room, so I went dashing back to get it. Halfway to the room I realized I had no keys and no time to get back to Gwen and no cell phone to call her and no idea where I was and no one would help me for various reasons, etc. It was a good, frustrating dream about anxieties and inabilities trying to find a way to the surface to be redeemed. It was a good post-Lent dream about facing the possibilities that were uncovered during the long season of turning toward death and leaning into life.

As I meditated on the dream, I remembered a blog post I wrote last September about being reminded to “Pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1 KJV). I translated the word of the Lord to me as, “If you come up against the impossible, my friends, pray with abandon.”

Generally, I have been pretty successful at listening to that word and doing it since then. I not only did not faint, I think I got better at praying. The most immediate results were that I grew up some more, I faced some more fears, I reconciled more relationships, I withstood some major meltdowns among my intimates and God built some new capacity in me and the church. Now, as my dream seems to indicate, it is back to square one – time to face the next big things and the big societal things (that did not pray with me) and not faint…again. It is time to take a few more little chunks out of the hide of the monsters that we are all facing. Joshua and I were talking about a few of them yesterday when we met, and they are still much like what I was noting last year:

“Some days I feel surrounded by a spirit of disengagement. It’ s not that everyone is possessed by it, of course, but so many of us seem to be trying to survive by keeping away from threatening or even challenging people, by hiding from the overwhelming facts of gigantic governments and corporations fighting for power, by avoiding enormous info machines dominating communication, incomprehensible food production and invasive medical care turning us into things we can’t imagine. In my neighborhood, people try to turn a blind eye to the constant threat that the thousands of guns littering the zip code will be used when the thin fabric of community finally tears.”

Post Lent, it is always tempting to keep eating chocolate, to return to the bad habits we gave up for Jesus (or at least for Lent), to let our spiritual belts out a few notches and to re-insulate ourselves with the fat of the false promises which dissipation offers us as a substitute for being truly safe and happy. It is tempting to go back into some numbing habit that puts us into a stupor of avoidance rather than pray.

I feel blessed today that my interpretation of my dream is like an alarm bell – a stupor alert. Jesus ended his word to his disciples with, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8) Rather than sinking into the frustrations of my inabilities churning around in my unconscious or cowering in the face of the monstrosities of my time, I need to pray with abandon. I need to trust the Lord and be found trustworthy. I need to pray and not faint…again.