How often have you said – or heard someone else say, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”?
When we’re able to remember our dreams, they are usually weird because they jumble together faces we know with those we don’t; they use material from our daily life in the real word and add to it fantastical details from who knows where; they often feature our own self in the middle of a movie or a play or a book we’ve been reading. Generally they make no rational sense to us.
Dreams are indeed weird because they are not the product of a rational mind. Dreams are made up of symbols; like art and music, they require intuition and imagination to “understand” them. Their content is emotional rather than intellectual.
Many theologians of the past and a few today would say they tap into the spiritual reality that exists beyond the physical world in which we live. In other words, dreams arise from that connection between the life spirit inside us and the Holy Spirit.
In his post this week, David Lose said, “Pentecost is a time to dream.” And then it hit me that maybe the only way to understand the Pentecost story is to treat it like a dream.
The difficulty is that in today’s world most people don’t think dreams are significant – that is, they do not mean anything. At most they may indicate that one ate too much of last night’s roast beef or drank too much wine.
Since the time of the Enlightenment, the beginning of the scientific age, our civilization has come to accept the idea that the only things we know about, can know about, are the things in our physical and material world. Even in Christian circles, the idea of a spiritual reality beyond or beside the material world was lost. People generally no longer believe in visions or miracles and clearly more and more of them see no need for religion.
Yet for the great majority of our existence on earth, everyone assumed a spiritual realm as well as a physical one. The cave painters at Lascaux were creating visions to transform their children into adults. The native practice of the vision quest did much the same.
The Biblical text is full of similar experiences with visions and dreams, not to mention miracles. Morton Kelsey, in God, Dreams, and Revelation, says, “The main strand of Christian tradition, until almost modern times, saw the dream as one way that God speaks to man. Dreams were understood to give men access to a reality that was difficult to contact any other way. Every major event in Acts is marked by a dream, a vision, or the appearance of an angel.”
In the Christian tradition and possibly in all religions there are various means of trying to access the spiritual realm: meditation, centering prayer, Lectio divina, focusing on a visual icon, reciting something, even eating hallucinogenic substances and dancing (whirling dervishes).
Most of these are individual attempts to communicate with the divine, although the whirling dervishes whirl together in a group. But what happens in Acts is truly communal. So just imagine yourself in some role in this story and imagine that you are dreaming it.
The room fills with wind. No one can see it, but everyone hears it and feels it. Then the followers of Jesus begin to praise God in a huge variety of languages. What a babel of voices! But there are people from all over the Roman world in town, and they come to see what is happening, and each of them can understand what is being said. This is not a hoax, folks!
What we have is a communal ecstatic experience happening. Everyone sees the same tongues of flame over the heads of the Jesus people. Is it any wonder that some of observers assume they had Bloody Marys for breakfast?
So Peter gets up and explains that the participants are not drunk. What’s happening is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
So now you wake up. What do you make of this dream? While there have been skeptics in every age, the majority of people in the times before Aquinas and Descartes would accept Peter’s explanation. Of course, and it must have felt like a dream to the disciples as well.
We can only ask, what does this dream suggest to you? What did it feel like? Speaking other languages suggests that the spirit will assist the disciples in their attempts to spread the word. Their lack of other languages, their lack of formal education is not a problem. They, like us, have all they need to spread God’s word to others.
The flame that does not burn them suggests God’s refining fire to me, the fire that burns away sin. Think of the vision Isaiah had in which his mouth is touched by a burning coal to remove his guilt, so that when God says, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah can reply, “Here am I; send me.”
In a sense we experience that refining fire every week when we receive communion. We are re-minded that our sins are forgiven, leaving us free and able to say, “Here am I; send me.”
When David Lose said, “Pentecost is a time to dream,” he wasn’t going where I’ve gone with the dream analogy, but rather about why we don’t dream, even in the sense of creating a dream for our future, whether an individual dream, like learning to play the piano, or a communal dream, like creating and carrying out a new mission project.
This kind of dreaming also requires imagination, thinking outside the box, as well as study and discernment. I hope that during this Pentecost season and beyond we will find a way to dream up our next missional outreach. I know we are short on volunteer strength and stamina, but we have a wealth of knowledge and planning skills. And we have substantial funds that could seed a new ministry that would use volunteers from other churches and the wider community as well.
SO – put on your dreaming caps. Fire up your imagination. What are the most pressing needs in our community? How can we partner with others to meet that need in a way that will be self-sustaining? Let me know what you dream up and we’ll talk. O yes, and pray too. AMEN