The other day I asked our interim rector if he believed that God still spoke to people in dreams, the way the Bible shows that He did in ancient times. He said, “Well, sure.” To be honest, it was more of a test than a question. I knew the answer – at least the truth as far as my belief is concerned.
My spiritual journey started as an infant, far before I could know the far-reaching consequences. My parents were Roman Catholics, so I was dutifully baptized when I was exactly one month old. That way I couldn’t go to Limbo (Purgatory) or Hell for no good reason if I died before the “age of reason.” I attended Catechism classes regularly (once a week), went to church every week and on those “holy days of obligation,” and said my prayers every night. Typical Roman Catholic upbringing – boring. But I also had a couple of extraordinary experiences.
I have one sibling, a sister four years younger than I am. When she was born, my father, who worked nights, offered to stay home on Sunday mornings and take care of her while my mother took me to church. Personally, I think it was a way to get a little extra sleep. As my sister got older, she started coming to church with us, but my dad still slept in on Sunday morning. I got to thinking, as only a 10 or 11 year old can think, and decided it wasn’t right that he should sleep in when my sister was going to church now. I was a very articulate kid – you know the type. Actually, I think I shamed him into coming with us. Whatever … my dad started coming to church every Sunday again and I was happy.
Everyone told me how much I was like my father – I looked like him, was smart like he was, I had similar aches & pains (in hindsight, we think he had fibromyalgia), etc.. I really was close to him. When I was 11, my grandmother, my father’s mother, died. He took it really hard. They had both nearly died when she gave birth to him and he told my mother that he didn’t think he would last long without her. The word’s of a grieving son? Hmmm…
About a year later, 2 weeks after my 12th birthday, my father died.
I remember many things about that day, even though it was really a blur. I remember thinking it was the worst birthday gift I had ever gotten. I remember how stubborn he was, refusing to go to the hospital when my mother wanted him to. I remember waiting for the ambulance for longer than it should have taken. I remember my mother’s voice screaming his name while we waited for the ambulance (it was November, the windows were closed, I was outside, they were inside). I remember being shuttled off to the upstairs neighbor with my 8 yr old sister, being told everything would be fine and knowing that was a lie. Hours later my mother told us my father had died and my world seemed to come crashing down, though all I said was, “I know!”
For those of you interested more in the medical than spiritual, my father had had minor surgery a while before. He was also a heavy smoker. He died from coronary thrombosis – a blood clot to the heart. The theory is that there was a small clot after surgery that grew due to the smoking (we didn’t know then what we know now about smoking’s effects on the body), until it could no longer fit through the blood vessel and blocked it. It was in the heart. It stopped his heart.
It didn’t matter what the reason was. My father was dead. I felt more pain than I have ever felt since – I think I probably had a mini “nervous breakdown” although I recall that time with more clarity than I should if that were true. I remember thinking how unfair it was that everyone else’s lives went on just as they had been when mine would never be the same! I remember the physical pain that felt like someone literally tearing my heart out. I’d always thought that people saying they felt physical pain when they suffered emotional loss was exaggeration. It isn’t. At that time, the routine was take a week off from school to grieve, then get back to your life like nothing had changed. There was no counseling. The doctor told my mother to keep our lives as normal as possible. I knew my life would never be the same. And that’s when it started …
I know, you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the part about dreams and God. Well, here it is!
Right after my father died, I began to have a dream. I had the same exact dream, detail for detail, every night, for months and months. Then it became once a week, once every other week, never less than once a month for years. Although you may think it was a nightmare after I describe it, it was not. I never felt the fear or panic you feel with a nightmare. I always felt calm and matter-of-fact about it. Of course, I don’t need to tell you what a 12 yr old thought about having the same dream every night when she was supposed to be “getting back to normal life.” Weird? Crazy? Sure.
I am alone in a large, white, 2 floor, farmhouse style building. It has no furniture, no curtains on the windows. I am wandering around the house, from room to room, upstairs and down, looking out the windows. The house is surrounded by green fields all around in a generally circular pattern. The fields are surrounded by stone walls of average farm-wall height. Beyond the stone walls are forests. Sounds like the New England countryside.
Outside, however, things are different. There is an army attacking the house. Tanks shooting. Planes bombing. All kinds of explosions with loud noise and bright flashes of light. BUT nothing is touching the house – not one weapon. The house doesn’t shake with the explosions. It sustains no damage.
I walk from window to window, looking out at the commotion, feeling no fear, just feeling puzzled. I can’t understand why they are doing that. I feel safe. Puzzled, but safe.
Okay, back to reality:
As I said, from the time I was 12, I had this dream all the time. My freshman year of college, I recall thinking about it as I walked back to the dorms after class. I must have had the dream the night before. About halfway back, I got it – I understood what it was saying. It was like God got tired of communicating in the same old images and slapped me upside the head with understanding. I have to give Him credit for persistence – I don’t think I’d have tried that hard for so long. At 17, over 5 years later, I got it!
I understood the imagery. God was the house. The army was the world around me, trying to hurt me. As long as I stayed in the house, nothing would ever touch me; nothing would ever hurt me the way my father’s death had. I would be taken care of.
I never had the dream again.
But I have been taken care of – in both big ways and small. Meeting the right person, reading the right book, making a seemingly unrelated choice; all those things that some might attribute to “coincidence.” I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in God. And I believe the right things happen at the right times, even when we don’t “get it” at the time.
By the way, when I was 19, I made a conscious choice to join the Episcopal Church (same faith, no Pope). Folks in the Episcopal Church read the Bible a lot more than folks in the Roman Catholic Church, at least in the 19 years I was part of it. A few snippets at Mass was the most I got growing up. When I “jumped ship,” as it were, I started learning more about the history of Christianity and I started reading the Bible. I really got into the Psalms – David’s songs of pain and joy and praise. One day I was reading the Psalms when I got another one of those “slaps upside the head.” I will leave you with the psalm that I was reading at that time. Let’s see if you see what I saw.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? * the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh,* it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me, * yet my heart shall not be aftaid;
4 And though war should rise up against me, * yet will I put my trust in him.
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; * that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord * and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; * he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.
8 Even now he lifts up my head * above my enemies round about me.
9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; * I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; * have mercy on me and answer me.
11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” * Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12 Hide not your face from me, * nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13 You have been my helper; cast me not away; * do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.
14 Though my father and my mother forsake me, * the Lord will sustain me.
15 Show me your way, O Lord; * lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
16 Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, * for false witnesses have risen up against me, and also those who speak malice.
17 What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord * in the land of the living!
18 O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; * wait patiently for the Lord.