He said, “Look up.” So, I looked up, and I saw the most beautiful stars. They were like Hubble Space Telescope Images, but I could see them with my own unaided eyes. All the colors were there, close enough to touch, yet glittering and dancing against the black of space, each one twinkling its own unique light. I was kneeling in the dream, but the sight was so beautiful it knocked me backward, the backs of my thighs now folding onto my calves. I began to cry, and that is when I woke up.
Earlier in the dream, I had been visiting a friend. When I had meandered outside the walls of a weathered barn where I had been perusing the friend’s library, there were two gentlemen who greeted me, one rocking quietly in an old wooden chair and the other seated in a still chair beside him. “Hello,” the rocking one said, “I’m Hiram.” “Hiram,” I replied, pronouncing the name like high-rum. “That’s an interesting name.” “It’s pronounced ‘hear-em.’ Hear-em Edson,” he followed.
When I woke, I was a bit discomfited as I believed that the friend I had visited in the dream was ill. I asked my mom to please call her just to confirm that she was alright. I went on to tell my mother about this strange dream, in which I met a man named Hiram Edson. It felt odd, and I wondered if it meant something. So, as anyone with a screen and a data plan would do, I googled the name ‘Hiram Edson,’ only to find that he indeed lived on a farm, with a barn as I had seen. He was one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist faith.
This was enormously interesting to me, and even more so, it was interesting because this was the faith of my early childhood. I do not have any active recollection of every hearing about Hiram Edson or seeing his barn, but I was fascinated to be reading this stuff now, especially in the discovery that his farm was a mere four-hour drive away from my home. Field Trip!!!
As the summer waned and all the other obligatory traveling was completed, I found the window of time two weekends back to make the visit. As I prepared to go, I learned that I was going to be a stone’s throw away from Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith had his revelatory experiences of the Book of Mormon. Having spent time this summer already at a Zen monastery, I figured I would pack up the kids and take an even deeper dive into enlightenment, revelation, and American religious syncretism.
We had an excellent adventure that took us all about, and our timing coincided with the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, at which hundreds of performers enact, before a crowd of many thousands, ten vignettes from the Book of Mormon. We visited the historic site of the Seneca Falls 1848 Declaration of Sentiments for women’s rights. And, then, we made it to the location of my dream, hunting down I know not what. It was a rich but heavy experience, leading my eight-year old to proclaim at one point that he needed to do some crime because he had simply had too much religion. He asked me to roll down the window so he could throw a Dorito chip on the highway in protest.
I found myself wondering what was I doing at all these places. What was I looking for, and what summons was I trying to answer? I was reluctant to divulge the purpose of my travels to the kind guide who met us at the Edson Farm, but eventually I spilled the beans. He was so delighted that we had made the journey and so intrigued by what I told him that he researched, immediately upon our departure, pronunciations of the name Hiram in mid-19th century New York. He called us a little while after we left to report that, no great surprise, “hear-em” was an accurate rendering. When I learned this, I was directly returned to my experience at the Zen monastery, where I started my summer. There, the head monk politely told me that in his experience of Christians, while they spoke much, they often had a difficult time listening.
Ah, here it was. Hear it. And, what was I listening to? An invitation to look up. And what did I see? Not a great new book of prophesy, not a savior opening up the inner sanctum of the Great Temple in the Sky, not a new or old set of commandments. But, the beauty of the stars. The majesty of the night sky. The cosmos, dazzlingly lit, and all that was required of me was to let it in and to witness its beauty.
Had I not had other odd such dreams in my life, I might have heard more than this in this curious blip of consciousness converging and emerging in my night sleep. Had I not had my own inexplicable thoughts, I might be more inclined to need to judge or to understand or to categorize the enlightenments and revelations that others experienced there in 19th century New York.
Alas, I walked away with only an appreciation of the abundance of opportunities in this strange world to wonder and to listen and to see.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.