Previous generations, long departed now, considered dreams to be a bridge between our earthly life and that of the gods. More recently, famous names like Freud and Jung theorised about the role of dreams in our lives thus cementing in the public imagination, the critical nature of dreams.
Today, modern science continues to peer into the ethereal world of our dreams. It might be that our remembered dreams are just our way of making sense of the random thoughts and images that emerge from our memories while we sleep. Or, it could be that our dreams offer us a survival advantage by helping us to perceive real threats in our everyday lives.
Whatever the true purpose of dreams, it is clear from scientific studies that dreams contribute to our wellbeing by helping us to regulate the astonishing amount of information that flows between our experiences of life and our often-forgotten memories and deeper emotions.
While I don’t generally take the time to think about the meaning of my own dreams, I have experienced a recurring dream over the past few years that yearns to be explored further. It is a memorable dream that while threatening remains amazingly beautiful in my heart.
At the beginning of this dream, I sense a nearby presence, a person who I know but can’t yet name. It feels as if my companion has been there long before I arrived and that there is something that this mysterious person wishes me to see.
I find myself pondering the pastoral scene that confronts me. It is a beautiful sunlight glade nestled within an ancient forest. Wildflowers grow haphazardly amongst the long grasses. Flying insects catch the breeze as they dance in the warm air. The air smells sweet and fresh.
A small wooden church rests harmoniously at the centre of the glade, so much a part of the idyllic setting that it looks like it was grown with love rather than hewn by skilful hands. A stout steeple is topped by a careworn cross that reflects the sunlight in every direction. All day long, small groups of people enter and leave the church as children play in the meadow and chant eternal rhymes that touch the hearts of every person that walks by. A crystal-clear stream runs alongside the church journeying out towards the great oceans that span the entire world.
Throughout all the comings and goings, people stop and talk to share small kindnesses. Sonorous keynotes of encouragement are interwoven through the many sacred moments of care that the people participate in. Some people carry posies of flowers to lay on one or other of the nearby graves. It is a scene rich with memory, forgiveness and thanksgiving that stretches out beyond itself to join with the dappled hues of all creation, an offering to the divine will that governs the universe of our existence.
As evening falls, the community disperse, and the small church seems to grow smaller still beneath a clear starlit sky. Yet, a single light escapes through the cobwebbed windows to illuminate the fading daylight, a sign of the eternal goodness that waits to be shared. It is a sublimely peaceful setting, a scene so moving that it carries our hearts to a place untouched by mere words.
Without warning, an angry crowd emerges from the darkness carrying weapons as well as flaming torches. The mob surround the church and throw their burning torches at the unprotected building. As the church is engulfed by flames, the crowd cheer, shout and scream wildly. It is a scene of hateful jubilation, blind arrogance and unyielding mockery. The peace that permeated throughout the day is cruelly shattered. Stranger still is the sense of fearful isolation that overtakes the attackers. There is no victory here.
I watch solemnly. Oddly, I am not concerned, at least initially, because I imagine that the peace-loving people who visited the church throughout the day are safe in their beds. As the flames reach up towards the cross that tops the steeple, I bless myself furtively for fear of being spotted by the mob. Looking to my companion for some sort of explanation, my gaze is directed towards the darkening shadows of the treeline.
I don’t see anything at first for I am blinded by my own assumptions. Surely, everybody must be safe. Gradually, my eyes begin to see the most terrible truth.
Sheltering beneath the branches of a great tree, the people gather in poverty, misery and despair. The great tree itself begins to die as the light of goodness is threatened by the angry flames from the relentless attackers. Forlorn cries of agony echo in the groaning darkness. It is a scene of utter devastation, painful sadness and unbearable suffering.
I look frantically towards the burning church for a sign of hope only to witness the simple cross become obscured by dark smoke billowing into the night sky. God forbid, even the heavenly stars above are hidden by dense smog.
Then, a small fragile figure emerges from the smoke carrying the cross and runs helter-skelter through the angry crowd. All the world’s future seems to pivot upon this innocent waif’s act of pure vulnerable daring. I step out into …..
At this point, I mercifully wake up. Every time. I cannot say what I will do next.
I do not claim that something is being communicated to me; but I still know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a startling insight now occupies my waking thoughts. I can only imagine that the powerful feelings associated with this strange dream will stay with me for the rest of my time upon this earth. These emotions have become an inescapable part of my daily life, as real as you or I.
I now better understand that without the Church, we lose any real hope for our future upon this fragile earth. For many unbelievers, this small insight might appear misguided while for believers, it might seem obvious; but it carries with it, incredible consequences. At the very least, it reminds me not to take any part of the Church for granted, however solid or unwanted it may appear. This is perhaps my deepest flaw, my personal blind-spot, my greatest sin.
We are constantly asked by contemporary Western society to believe that the Church is somehow irrelevant in the modern age. And, I am guilty of wanting to believe that the divine goodness at the heart of the Church will always be readily available to every soul who seeks it out or draws near to it for sustenance.
If nothing else, my recurring dream has reinforced for me the existence of these temptations that often remain unchallenged through our deadening complacency. For me, this is the basic meaning of this unusual dream.
Yet, I also know that my recurring dream is not about militant judgement. It is not just about me nor is it about the people who carry posies of loving memory across a light strewn graveyard nor the people who carry destructive weapons in the dark spaces of their hearts. It is not even about the people who cherish hope and pray in the ordered pews. It is about every person and every living thing that occupies the earth and those yet to be born long into the future. It is about the common good, that seemingly unattainable harmony that continues to elude us despite the remarkable progress of civilisation.
It is about all the goodness in the world that the Church strives to protect and elevates heavenward at every opportunity. At times, it feels like the Church falls short of this holy mission so much so that it obscures its own goodness. Yet, despite its human flaws, the Church constantly works towards illuminating a reality so enormous that I can never fully grasp it, a reality that asks us to trust in God’s unfailing provenance.
Permeated throughout my experience of the blessings of the Church is the aching love that both envelopes us and flickers within each one of us; enkindling throughout the whole world a profound if precarious sense of boundless belonging, an eternal whisper of God’s merciful justice amidst the countless actions of our day to day lives.
The whole is much greater than any one part, yet each part plays a vital role within the great web of existence, an interconnected unity that boldly sings of God’s being. Why is this integral song so difficult to hear and still more difficult to sing?
When we are complacent about life wherever it exists: whether in the forests; in the meadows; in the great oceans and rivers of the earth; in the villages, towns and cities of this world; in any stage of development; or in the Church itself, we diminish the whole. By ignoring the call of life or by neglecting the whole, we ultimately diminish ourselves. This life-centred message is a constant reminder that individual selfishness does not pave the way to true glory. Our salvation always depends on the other.
We are never as powerful or invincible as we think we are. To live in this world is to experience an unavoidable sorrow that we - often without clear intention - bring upon ourselves. By opening ourselves up to death and destruction, we expose ourselves to a dreadful fear; a terrible isolation devoid of the shielding presence of the only shared love that can sustain us. When we continue to destroy life, we find only death waiting for us somewhere beyond our immediate attention. But, this reckless abandonment of life is never the complete story. It is just one theme within the great book of life.
Throughout the history of human existence, overlooked stories are often transformed by the love that surrounds us and grows within our hearts. If this were not the case, we would have erased our own existence long ago. There would be no book of life with our names inscribed upon its pages. A protective love bleeds within us, a love that is both sorrowful and gracefully exquisite.
This protective love is inflamed by the scarred and crucified love that we bear witness to, calling us to honour the eternal love that gives us life: ‘No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ for ‘we love because he first loved us’. This is the true miracle of our lives.
At Easter time, we confront our shortcomings to affirm that life prevails over death. It is a memorial and a sign of the loving grace that helps us to control our appalling appetite for self-interest. The blessing of Easter reminds us that no single soul need remain inconsolable through continued isolation.
No matter what conditions we find ourselves in, Christ shares our despair and our joy, wakes us from our complacency and our selfishness, carries our suffering and our most daring dreams of a better future. Christ has forged a pathway of hope that leads us always towards new life. The goodness of all creation is renewed with him, in him and through him by the power of the Holy Spirit to the honour of our heavenly Father. All life dwells within this deeper mystery of profound love.
To truly encounter the mystery of God is to be forever transformed in a new hope that never dies. This hope, that we are called to abundantly share, restores the Easter promise and renews our sacred covenant with God to choose the way of life and eternal truth. The dynamic light of Easter leads us - the People of God - to celebrate goodness and to steadfastly overcome all challenges in peace, unity and love. True victory does not require terrible weapons.
Within each one of us, the Easter blessing begins with our own sacrifice crafted out of love as we make a gift of our own lives to the service of our families, friends and neighbours; a precious gift that reaches outwards to the entire world and far beyond. This is a gift that saves much more than we can ever fully understand in this life.
Only God’s light can fade the darkness, only God’s goodness can conquer evil and only God’s abundant life can defeat death. It is a vision of better times to come for all humanity and the entire earth, which carries our dreams of perfect love out over the horizon of our individual lives and eliminates the shadows of any future that we alone can possibly conceive. God waits for us in love and so nothing is impossible.
Like the small child in my dream; I pray that we do not abandon the light, we protect what is good and we find the path of love in every circumstance. When we cherish the light of Easter in our hearts and in our hands, we hold the key to our salvation.