In Dreams by Natalie Weaver


I am grateful for dreams.  I don’t know what they are, of course, in any absolute sort of way.  Defining dreaming is as elusive as dreams themselves.  Moreover, I find that understanding dreaming is complicated by the vastly variegated quality one finds in hearing people speak of their experiences of dreaming.  Some say things such as “I can never remember a dream,” while others say they only remember bad dreams.  Some place no stock in dreams at all, while for others they are the numinous truth realms beneath all waking phenomena.  I have spoken with hard-science minded colleagues as well as artists about dreams, who regardless of professional vocation can be utterly untouched by their nighttime journeying.  On just a few occasions have I ever heard people speak of their dreams as definitively shaping their lives in the way that my dreams, or more precisely, in the way that the faculty of dreaming, has impacted my life.

It has only been in the past few years that I have spoken of my dreams in concert with my philosophy and theology.  I think this is because we do not have widely shared cultural models for receiving dreaming.  As such, the experience is quite unsharable in a public sense.   As a child I would run to my mother, wherever she would be in the house and at any time of day or night, to report with a giant sense of urgency what I had experienced in my sleeping.  Yet, as I grew, in terms of what and how I thought, that is, in my developing public or professional mind, I kept the truth of my dreams silenced.  Doing so has alienated my voice from my own deepest source of knowing, and this has had the curious and undeniable outcome of curtailing my own authority.

I have spoken procedurally and traditionally from the literature of vetted heroes, even though the entire reason I have been in this game, so to speak, is my dreaming.  My dreams, however, have given me much greater access to certain truths than most anything I have ever read.  There is an unmediated power in them that I do well to honor.  Let me give you an example.

A few nights back I dreamed I was in a closed grey room.  The room was unintelligible in that it had no windows or doors.  The only noticeable feature of the room was a porcelain sink basin and a faucet sticking out from the wall.  In the dream, I found myself vaguely confused.  For, the dream was actually a dream of waking up.  I dreamed that I woke up in this room, looked around, and noticed that a toy train was running around the interior perimeter.  I held in my hand a flashlight, which I pointed at the train in order to cast a shadow on the wall.  My task, in the dream, was to fall back to sleep, watching the shadow caused by my little light.  But, with a start, I realized that I mustn’t fall back to sleep watching the train.  You see, I had suddenly understood that I had believed myself to be a true conductor, driving a real train.  Were I to return to sleep again, in my closed grey room with my toy train and flashlight, I would be returning to the illusion that I had been actually doing something important.  So as to wake myself further, as the dream went, I approached the faucet and began to splash water on my face.  It was then that I could “hear” the water, which sounded like whatever resonant hum gold glitter might emit.  A voice with no source and words with no sound, then, spoke to me, saying: “Receiving the Eucharist is entering into relationship with the all-powerful Being, the least important aspect of which is the washing away of the sins of the world.  Water is the Primordial Sacrament.”  As I began to wake in earnest, I found myself weeping because I believed, in this dream, in this moment, that sacraments were real, and all the elements of body and blood were first present in the water.  I felt a huge sense of loss for the centuries, indeed millennia, that we have spent on sin, missing the greater, holistic, total, and welcoming sense of acceptance and joy in mere, relational co-being with Being.  The dream seemed to speak truth to me.

So, how does one share a dream, or dream truths, such as this?  Our culture does not support the authority of the individual mind, its awareness and comfort with the voices of our ancestors, and the manifest truths that come to us in sleep.  Our culture regards sleep as turning off the mind from the busy-ness and productivity of life, as mere hiatuses from the work of living, and almost something we do in defeat against the greater good of accomplishing this thing or that thing in the “real world.”  We do not typically see dreaming as a work unto itself, a place of psycho-spiritual activity, and a trustworthy location for new revelation.  When revelation and truth are buttoned up in ancient texts and managed by sentinels of “tradition,” dreaming is far too perilous, too personal, and too idiosyncratic to be received and directed as an important place of existential beingness.  Indeed, dreaming is almost scary, because we do not know what we are going to find there, especially when we fill our minds with binge-series watching and fruit-blast-game playing, all the way until the lights go out.  This is, to me, an incredible cost to the well-being of contemporary bodies and minds and spirits.

If there are gains to getting older, one of them must certainly be the volume and inertia that accrues from life itself.  What one knows begins to spill over the boundaries of normative, polite, safe discourse.  At least for me, I find it less and less possible to suppress wisdom in the interest of scholarship; truth in the interest of canon; or my own voice in the interest of safety.  Dreams help me in this process, and my experience of dreaming leads me to suggest that we need to dream better and more intentionally.  Especially the dreaming of children should be held and heard carefully by caregivers, as a core faculty of mind, not to be dismissed as random firings of the brain re-setting itself or other such ilk.  For, important dreams are not the domain of past mystics and sages.  They are another work of the living, of which we are, in this day, very much in need.

 

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage 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.



Categories: Dreams and Dreaming, Faith, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Spiritual Journey, Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing this profound dream and your reflections on dreaming. My experience of dreaming is very like yours. Some dreams are a jumble, some reflect or reveal my troubles, but some dreams bring messages and images that seem as though they are for more than me. I remember those dreams always. I often distill my dreaming in a short poem form, tanka or haiku. Thank you again for sharing this dream. Mni Wiconi Water is life!

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  2. “My dreams, however, have given me much greater access to certain truths than most anything I have ever read.”

    Natalie, this has been my experience too. You ask such an important question – where do we put our dreaming – we have no context for dreaming in our culture – one reason I was drawn to become a Jungian pattern analyst until I discovered that this intellectual discourse removed me from the visceral truth of dreams.

    You answer your own question about how to talk about dreaming by sharing your deep experience on FAR – this is a gift for everyone should they choose to take it.

    Every since the last election my dreams have turned incredibly dark. Just last night I had a dream about finding what I thought was a path underground in oozing mud only to discover that it was closing in on me and I couldn’t get out. In my dreams this same theme repeats – there is no way out. i think on some level I am living our cultural nightmare.

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  3. Talmud: An unexamined dream is like an unopened letter –

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  4. Thanks for this Natalie – I don’t know how people get by in life without analysing their dreams! It’s like having an extra arm or leg – so useful.

    If I’m in doubt about what to do, my dreams will show me what I REALLY want to do. The way I look at dreams is that it’s important to remember that everything in the dream is you, so I wonder how it feels to be that faucet – the channel for the sacrament of water?!

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  5. Natalie, your dream is , beautiful and filled with wisdom, thank you for sharing, of course I had similar experiences. I had dreams , were they would tell me what’s going to happen in my future, at the moment of the dream I wouldn’t grasp it, but later on, when things really happened as my dreams would tell me, I wasn’t much surprised, it was like an AHA moment. and I even connect with diseased people. I would dream of my first husband becoming a father and later dying, as of my second husband leaving me. As I keep a diary of my profoundest dreams.

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  6. Dreams deal routinely with telepathy and also precognition – another problem because our culture creates no space for anything but linear time.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your dream and thoughts about dreaming. I’ve been aware of my dreams (i.e., recall many of them without effort) since childhood nightmares. Alas, I rarely keep a dream journal — every time I’ve tried to do that, I end up messing up my sleep cycle and disturbing my deep sound sleeps, so I quit *except* for those dreams that demand to be heard upon waking — you know, the ones that remain with us far into waking time.

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  8. Beautiful. I love the way you speak about dreams. I believe they help us to walk the veils between the heavens and earth. I believe they provide inspiration for our waking hours. Thank you for articulating.

    Funny, about thirty years ago I bought a small antique toy train (Locomotive and tinder) for my young children at the time. I went on to write a manuscript about two children caught up in a dream world where this train takes them on adventures which they access through their dreams at first until the events in this world they visit begin spilling over into their daytime lives. I loved the theme but my manuscript wasn’t very good so its tucked away in storage. I still keep that locomotive and tinder on my desk though.

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  9. I love both your insight about “we do not have widely shared cultural models for receiving dreaming” and your celebration of the Eucharist as life-giving rather than punitive. Regarding the Eucharist, this is one reason I fell in love with Wesleyan theology (and with the Celtic roots it sprang from in old Britain) – and Wesley believed that the Eucharist was indeed a means of receiving Grace, that Grace which is always everywhere, reaching out to us in Love, to remind us of our true selves, heal us from the hurts and fears that get in our way of being our divine selves, free us from whatever is making it hard for us to feel and act from a place of perfect Love of self, divine, and other. So Wesley saw Eucharist as a wonderful way to receive that healing, liberating, freeing, joyful Grace, in an embodied way that gets right into our flesh and gives us a holistic sense of who we are, most truly, divine beings. I have attended Methodist churches that really got that theology right and made Eucharist a true celebration, powerfully joyful and healing.
    Regarding dreaming, I have often longed for guidance on my dreams. I have had quite a number of dreams that accurately predicted immanent death, and other dreams that seemed especially important for various reasons, moreso than the normal dreams that are clearly just my mind and spirit processing the challenges and questions of life. I wonder if it exists, true understanding of dreaming, or if it is a mystery we are never meant to solve, only to learn from however best we can. I have read many takes on dreaming, but none of them have seemed to solve this mystery for me. Thank you for sharing such a thought-provoking post.

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