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The Mortadella Dream


Many years ago, in 1970 or 1971, I had the dream recounted here. I named it then, before I knew that naming dreams helped one to remember them and it has stayed with me now for nearly 30 years. I had talked briefly about it in one of two related services (see Dream Notes) but, until I received a request for a transcription of those sermons, had not recorded it. Here it is, seen through the lens of the years.

We were staying in an old hotel in Atlantic City. I don't know if old places are haunted by ghosts but they certainly seem to retain dreams. Towards morning, after a restless night, I fell into a deep drowse and the following dream came to me:

I was visiting a biomedical research institute, perhaps as an honored guest. Most of the work of the research groups was focused on a terrible disease that had recently appeared. It struck only children and produced a terrible swelling and blistering of the skin all over the body. Their skin would then crack and slough off, in small, somewhat geometric pieces, like the very small tiles used on public rest room floors or the white islands in a slice of mortadella sausage. Like burn victims with massive injuries, the children became very ill and invariably died slowly but painfully.


Just before my visit, there had been two quite extraordinary developments:


First, quite by accident, several skin fragments had been dropped on a laboratory hotplate. Before they could be removed, each had developed a mark or pattern, which was recognizable as a letter or a symbol from one of the alphabets of the world; but each fragment held a different mark within it. The linguists and semanticists had worked out how to read the symbols together, rather like putting Scrabble tiles on a board. And the theologians were convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the decoded texts were the word of God.


Second, a cure had been found. However, it required vaccination and completely prevented the disease in all cases.


At the time of my dream visit, there was an enormous debate raging through all the groups of the Institute. There were informal conferences, brown bag lunch meetings, afternoon symposiums and evening study sessions. The ethicists and the rationalists argued that it would be inhumane to withhold the cure. But the religious among the researchers and the support staff pleaded not to be cut off from the Word, from revelations still to come. There seemed to be no solution.


And then I woke up.



In 1995, I became very interested in dreams: their content, their significance, their role in life. One stimulus to this interest was a service which I attended on "dream work." It was presented by a very well meaning group of people, who had met for many years to discuss their dreams in an effort to understand them. At the end of the service there was a period for response ("talk back") and I asked something along the following line: "If we are to attach importance to the apparent messages in our dreams, shouldn't we begin by asking where they come from? Who is the author of dreams?" The discussion which followed was very unsatisfactory and unresolved, with no one wishing to defend dreams either as revelation or as pure physiology.

That service, and subsequent reflection, led me to present a sermon at UUFC (2/18/96) and then two services at TPUUF. I had thought to edit these into a single essay; instead, I have decided to reproduce essentially only the notes which I used to present the sermons. These notes follow, entitled "Dream Notes."