Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dreams: Parables of the Night

Here's an article I wrote in 1990 that was published in a couple of Catholic magazines. Hope this helps! If you need more help with your dream, leave me a Comment here and we can look at it together.
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" When Joseph came to them the next morning, he noticed that they looked disturbed. So he asked Pharaoh's courtiers... 'Why do you look so sad today?' They answered him, 'We have had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them for us.' Joseph said to them, 'Surely interpretations come from God. Please tell your dreams to me.' " (Genesis 40:6-8)

The Bible uses may examples of dreams and their interpretations, yet today's believer has abandoned this practice into the hands of psychiatrists and mystics. Perhaps it is time for us to take another walk down this forgotten avenue of discerning God's will.

The voice of God

In the Book of Genesis, God's will was often revealed through dreams and visions. It was through Jacob's dream of the ladder at Bethel that God revealed himself to his Chosen People and established his lasting covenant. A few chapters later Jacob's son Joseph  was released from prison and raised to a position of authority in the government of Egypt by his inspirational ability to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. In fact, from the patriarch Abraham through the prophet Daniel, dreams and visions were used by God to lead and direct his people.

Early Church Fathers also taught that dreams conveyed spiritual messages. St. Clement wrote that in sleep the soul, freed from sense impressions, can reflect truly on its relationship with God. Emperor Constantine credited his spiritual conversion to a dream. St. John Chrysostom taught that God reveals himself to his people through dreams. And St. Augustine, whose own conversion was foretold in his mother's dreams, believed that dreams revealed both the inner workings of the believer's mind and his or her relationship with God.

"Dreams, more than any other thing, entice us toward hope," wrote Bishop Synesius of Cyrene in the 5th century, "and when our heart spontaneously presents hope to us, as happens in our sleeping state, then we have in the promise of our dreams a pledge from divinity."

Despite such divine authority, dreamwork became reclassified almost exclusively with witchcraft between the 4th and 5th centuries. At that time St. Jerome mistranslated the passage, "You shall not practice augury nor observe dreams" in the Latin Vulgate. Modern translations have corrected this error, leaving us free to examine our dreams in good conscience for their revelation of God's purpose in our lives.

Proverbs and parables

The New Testament records that Jesus spoke only in parables to all but his closest disciples. In the gospels Jesus explains that he speaks in parables so that only those whose hearts are open may understand his message and be healed.

"He said to them, 'Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.'" (Mark 4:21-23)

Dreams too are clothed in the familiar language of parables. Parables and dreams both offer profoundly important insights in the form of simple stories. By learning to regard our dreams as our own personal parables, we may learn from them lessons vital to our education and growth.

A dream needn't have a particularly religious theme in order to be spiritual. Any experience that helps us grow toward personal maturity and wisdom is a step toward wholeness and holiness. While many dreams do reflect specifically on our relationship with God, most dramatize our relationships with family and friends and the important issues we struggle with daily.

Why we forget

Research proves that we dream for about two hours every night. The first dream occurs about 90 minutes after retiring and lasts only five to ten minutes. As the night deepens, our dreams become longer and more detailed, with the final dream of early morning lasting about 40 minutes. It is this final dream that we remember upon waking.

Many people mistakenly believe they do not dreams because they don't remember their dreams. This misconception often stems from their of frightening dreams. Learning to understand and come to terms with dreams rather than ignoring them is a far better way of mastering our fears. If we begin our dreamwork with God's help, we will no longer feel powerless before them.

Another common reason for not remembering dreams is our unwillingness to listen to the message. Dreams can be painful but truthful vehicles of correction. Situations or personal qualities we prefer to overlook in the daylight are often exposed in our dreams.

Mastering dreamwork

Like parables, dreams present truths whose enigmatic lessons can only be discovered by those with an ear to hear. Untangling the messages of these parables of the night involves learning the symbolic language of dreams and recognizing the parallels between your dreams and your waking life.

The first step in remembering your dreams is deciding that you want to remember them. Setting out a notebook and pen by your bed is a good idea for two reasons: First, the notebook is a physical reminder and commitment that you intend to remember your dreams. Second, dreams must be recalled and recorded immediately upon awakening or they will be forgotten.

In addition to the images of the dream, it is a good idea to record the feelings and emotions you experienced in the dream and felt upon awakening.

The next challenge is to translate the language of the parable into a message you can understand. This is accomplished by looking at each element of the dream--people, places, objects, actions, emotions--and meditating upon what each suggests to you. Write these associations down no matter how trivial or unrelated they may see. Once this is done, you can step back from the dream and see what message emerges.

Megan's dream

The following dream and its interpretation illustrates the process and its importance.

"I dreamed I was standing at the kitchen counter making breakfast for my family. I was making Barry and drink in the blender, adding more and more ingredients until the contents of the blender erupted like a volcano and spewed out a horrible green mess all over the kitchen. There was a policeman standing in the kitchen with his arms folded, judging me. I felt very guilty about the mess and didn't know how I could ever clean it up."

Megan, a full-time homemaker, had been married to Charles for two and a half years at the time of this dream. Charles' fifteen-year-old son, Barry, lives with them. Charles, an accountant, is a good provider but quiet and undemonstrative. He expects Megan to provide a stable home and disapproves of displays of emotion.

Megan's first step in understanding her dream was to record the dream as soon as she awakened. She also recorded the emotions that the dream stirred up in her: helplessness, embarrassment, and guilt.

Next, Megan drew a line down the middle of a page. On the left side of the page she listed each element of the dream. Across from each element she wrote down whatever association the element brought to mind.

DREAM IMAGE                        REMINDS ME OF
the kitchen counter                     my workplace
making breakfast                        providing nourishment
my family                                   means everything to me
Barry's blender drink                  blended family. mixed up.
too many ingredients                  couldn't stop in time
erupting volcano                         powerful, out of control (Barry)
horrible green mess                    sickly
policeman                                   enforces order (Charles)
arms folded                                 unfriendly, distant
my own guilt                               it's all my fault

Reading her dream from the right-hand column, Megan saw the family members' roles clearly illustrated for the first time. She saw herself as trying to be a nurturing mother to her new "blended" family; Barry as a pent-up, potentially disruptive force; and Charles as an unsympathetic lawmaker. She also recognized that there was some kind of "sickness" present, threatening to overwhelm their home.

Megan's dream presents the family dynamics in the form of a visual parable. She and Barry maintain an uneasy truce whenever Charles is home, but she fears the lid will soon come off. Like throwing too many ingredients into a blender, Megan fears that saying one word too many will cause a catastrophic emotional eruption.

"The more I thought about this dream, the more I realized why I feel so uncomfortable around Barry," Meagan told me over coffee in the kitchen. "He's been so sullen and moody lately that the least little thing might set him off, and I'm really afraid of that happening. I'd like to be able to talk with Charles about this, but he doesn't approve of such petty talk."

While Megan and Charles both desperately strive to maintain a peaceful home life, the peace lies only on the surface and does not penetrate into their hearts. Lack of acknowledgement of unpleasant emotions cannot bring about true solutions; it can only contribute to an unstable buildup of tension.

"Anyone who has ears..."

Of course not all dreams present such clear-cut messages as Megan's dream. Some "housekeeping" dreams merely deal with the leftover activities and emotions of the day without carrying particularly important lessons. The dreamer can usually feel the difference between dream parables and housekeeping dreams by the sense of urgency and importance a dream parable conveys.

Even embarrassing or shameful dreams are fit subjects for recollection and prayer. The danger in these dreams comes not through remembrance of the dream itself, but by ignoring the dream and denying acknowledgment of our true human condition.

When King Nebuchandnezzar dreamed the frightening "dream of the tree" that foretold his insanity and the loss of his kingdom, Daniel understood that God was issuing a warning to the king. The dream's message indicated that the king needed to acknowledge God, and not himself, as the supreme ruler of his kingdom. Daniel encouraged the king to heed the message of the dream in order to avert the impending tragedy: "Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long" (Daniel 4:24). Nebuchadnezzare chose instead to ignore God's warning and so continued on the path leading to his illness.

Matthew recorded a dream in the very first chapter of his Gospel. It seems there was a man betrothed to a young virgin who learned the disturbing news that his beloved was with child. Not wanting to shame her publicly, he considered sending her secretly away. An angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to fear marrying her.

"For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).

Joseph heeded the message of his dream and took Mary to be his wife.

What lessons might God be holding for you in your dreams? You will never know unless you listen.
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For more on Dreams, look at these two other articles from this blog:

A Simple Explanation of Dreams

Personal Note: A Childhood Dream of God