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Dream Notes


At TPUUF, these two services were presented two weeks apart; on the intervening Sunday evening, I led a discussion on theories of dream interpretation (that session is the basis for the early part of the second sermon). I focused that discussion about a print of Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy, beginning by asking, whose dream is it anyway? The painter's? The gypsy's? Or the lion's? (personally, I favor the lion!)


The Children's Moment was a reading of a wonderful story: Appelemando's Dreams (Patricia Polacco - Philomel Books, 1991). I found this in a bookstore, quite by accident (Ha!), while working on these sermons. Briefly, Appelemando is a young, introverted boy, growing up in a very small village, who dreams colorful, numinous dreams which other children can see. Unfortunately, he gets into trouble, because the dreams stick to damp things, including ducks! But as such children's stories go, his ability to dream so that others can see saves the day and he becomes a hero (and everybody lives happily ever after...)

Dreaming the Past: Reflection


Children's Moment:

Introduction to the Dream Catcher

Appelemando's Dreams (through Lark: "Lucky you only dream on sunny days!")

Hymn #55: Dark of Winter


Chalice Lighting:


Carl Sandberg tells us:


"Nothing happens unless first a dream."


Nothing happens unless first a dream.

The past is different from the future:

We can remember the past but only imagine the future.

However, our dreams weave together past, present and future.

In the words of Mama Cass Eliot,

"Come, dream a little dream with me."

Sharing of Joys and Concerns


Song: Voice Still and Small - fellowship singers


To Die, To Sleep (Shakespeare - Hamlet)

Cheese and Plums (Slocum - Sailing Alone Around the World)

Meditation/Rumination: Reflection


Imagine drifting away, falling asleep


Down through four stages - reawakening into REM (rapid eye motion) sleep - small muscle paralysis - but the eyes move, see - the curtain rises on the theater of the mind.


"Where people fly and water runs uphill" - Jeremy Taylor (1992 book of the same name)


All mammals and all but the echnida among marsupials dream


What can we say and believe about a physical creation in which all mammals and marsupials but one dream? What is the meaning or message of this reality?


We dream 4 - 10 times a night - more frequently than we eat or read a book or sing or whatever?


But, our society, which denies the reality of ghosts, has lost touch with the power of dreams.


When I look at book indices, newspaper columns, movies: where are the dreams?


In the comic strips? Today's Times Herald color comics: Luann: Am I awake dreaming I'm asleep or am I asleep dreaming I'm awake?


Bookstore survey:

Clemson Open Book: Dream magazines: 0; Gun magazines: 25

Gene's: Dream magazines: 2 (Dreamscape, Dream Network )

(both out of stock ); Gun magazines: 17


The Dreamtime: Past so remote that it fades into dreams; the Australian bush people; (Dreamtime of the Giants, the end of the age of giants, landscape as physical reminders); the Dreaming as a way to maintain their cultural identity and their ties to the land.


The Power of Dreams: Lincoln's dream of his own death; Kennedy (before Dallas): "Anyone wishing to trade his life for mine, may have it"; Kekule's dream of the structure of benzene (a snake biting its tail).



The Force of Dreams - Shakespeare - Hamlet


"Rather bear those ills of which we know (including dreams) than fly to others that we know not of (perhaps night mares?)"


Ketamine: a dissociative anesthetic - O.K. for children but produces recurring, ever more threatening, night frights in adults, leading, occasionally, to psychosis.


Dreaming the past too is dreadful to bear - perhaps - but, dreaming is a way of processing and understanding what happens in life too rapidly to comprehend.

The Emperor Chuang Tzu, dreaming he was a butterfly, awoke and wondered if he was indeed a butterfly dreaming he was an Emperor or was he an emperor in fact?


Dreams of past lives - especially in societies which believe in reincarnation: do the beliefs create the dreams or do the dreams create the beliefs?


But are dreams so special? Can they be caused by indigestion, drafts, a crease in the bed clothes, a restless bed partner?


Dreaming the present:


Slocum: after eating plums and white cheese, he dreamt of Columbus? navigator with a red cap, black whiskers, before "coming to, as from a swoon."


Jung - Numinous (revelatory) dreams which announce their importance; herald a message.


And what is the message that Slocum received?


"You did wrong to mix cheese with plums. White cheese is never safe unless you know whence it comes."


Slocum perceives the message as a moral judgment but rejects it!:


"Avast there. I have no mind for your moralizing!"


Numinous dreams may be (have been) interpreted as present revelation (or even as reality).


Dreams of health or disease: Realizing, in a dream that one is actually ill, perhaps with a tumor. Wellness dreams, "dream-patterning," as a way of harnessing the sub-conscious powers of personal healing, of both mental and physical ills.


Ursula LeGuin: The Lathe of Heaven (written in 1971 about imagined events in 2002) - the future (in the past) has a bad habit of becoming the present.


Her main character, George Orr: A loner, a loser in a time of pollution, war, overpopulation, epidemic. Orr dreams not prophetic dreams but numinous, "effective" dreams which change both the present and, for all but a very few, including himself, memories of the past. He comes under the influence of a corrupt psychologist, William Haber. Haber attempts to manipulate Orr to improve both his own lot and that of the population at large. "Be careful what you wish for, it may be granted:" An Institute for the Study of Dreams (for Haber), a girl friend (for Orr) and, for the rest of us, an alien invasion, a common enemy to unite the country and bring about a new age of Eden.


Old/New Testaments: God and angels often spoke to mortals "after retiring" or at times admittedly within dreams, particularly to unbelievers.


Exodus: The Pharaoh's dream of seven fat kine devoured by seven thin ones; interpreted by Joseph as God's word.


But also to believers: Genesis:


"God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said: Jacob, Jacob.?"


The Koran "dictated" by God to Mohammed, while he rested in a cave - perhaps day dreamed?


The Book of Mormon - Joseph Smith:


"On the evening of the 21st of September (1823), I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God. While thus in the act of calling upon God (conscious or in a swoon? in a dream?) ...a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor."


The angel Moroni appeared three times that night, between evening dusk and dawn's light.


Personal dreams of enlightenment: "I'll just have to sleep on that!"


Shared dreams: Was I in your dreams last night? Or you in mine?


Frankly religious dreams:


The Quaker experience, meditation, "centering down," waiting for a shared dream.


Amerindian male coming of age customs - fasting and solitude, leading to vision, name, life guidance - but these dreams speak of the future - and in two weeks I and you shall consider dreaming as revelation and prophesy.


Congregational Response


Closing Words:


GB Shaw (Back to Methuselah):


"You see things; and you say, "Why?"

But I dream things that never were and I say, "Why not?"


Blessed be; the service is ended




Dreaming the Future: Revelation




Children's Moment:


Appelemando's Dreams (review, beginning with Lark: "Lucky you only dream on sunny days!"


Hymn #346: Come, Sing a Song With Me



Chalice Lighting:

George Bernard Shaw tells us:(Back to Methuselah):


"You see things; and you say, "Why?"

But I dream things that never were and I say, "Why not?"


I light the chalice today for our present and future dreams.


Sharing of Joys and Concerns


Hymn #351: A Long, Long Way the Sea-Winds Blow


My Great Vision (Black Elk)

Remembrance (tape recording of a fragment):

I Have A Dream (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Meditation/Rumination: Revelation


What do dreams mean?

Second Sunday discussion, last week, starting from Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy:


Various views:




"When the work of interpretation has been completed, we perceive that a dream is the fulfillment of a wish."


Whose dream, whose wish, the gypsy's or the lion's?




"There are certain events of which we have not consciously taken note... The unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams where it appears not as a rational thought but as a symbol."


What is the symbolic value of a dream of a lion (or of a gypsy) in the desert?


"Madame Fatima" (Sandra Thomson):


"A classic symbol of power/kingship, lions can, therefore, represent a male authority figure, possibly your father. Consider whether there's a waking situation/relationship in which you need to exert more power/responsibility, or in which you're feeling dominated, possibly overpowered."


Symbols as culturally relative.


Perhaps the Iroquois, with their emphasis on matrilineal leadership and authority in time of peace, dreamt of lionesses as symbols of power and authority.


Dream Work (Jeremy Taylor):


"Only the dreamer can understand the dream but no dream comes just to tell what is already known."

"The single most important thing to understand about dreaming is that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness."


But these views of the meaning of dreams are secular:


Can dreams be intimations of transcendence?


In dreams, in Taylor's words, people fly and water flows uphill - but - can dreams cross the boundary from "what is" to "what ought to be?"


Imagine for a moment that you are a young native American male.


Perhaps a Lenape, or a Lakota or a Vancouver - for many of our "first nations," as the Canadians call them, held this custom in common.


You are bursting with energy, with vigor, with eagerness to take your place as an adult, with all of its privileges and perils.


But first, there is a ritual of passage which will shape your life.


You must go into the wilderness, perhaps with simple weapons, or perhaps unarmed, perhaps with water but more probably with no provisions and minimum clothing.


Your duty is to fast and meditate, to invite the Great Spirit to show you your path in life. You are expected to come back with a dream, or not at all.


On the second or third day, when you are light headed and past hunger, you make a small sacrifice, perhaps a gift of native tobacco and your quest is rewarded:


Great visions arise


You receive a view of your life and, perhaps that of your clan and tribe.


You are shown a life dance and a song, even an animal totem, to guard and protect you.

You come home to your family and friends - tired and hungry -


But before you eat and rest - your describe your vision for life in your life dance and song.


And you take your place in the circle of life, bound within your clan and tribe and their traditions.


We have no such rite of passage for our young.


We raise them in a society which rejects visions and is afraid of silence.


Would it be better if we asked our young to dream their future?


We ask too little but expect too much of our youth.


We have no way to bind them to us and to our dreams for the future.


It was not always thus:


Bill Doorly, after my first meditation on this subject, brought to my attention a ritual custom from the time of Solomon and perhaps much earlier: the incubation ritual.


Here is a brief description of how it went:


The supplicant makes a sacrifice, and then lies down in some special place, perhaps a sacred grotto or in a shrine or temple.


The beseeched deity appears, in a vision or a dream, and the supplicant makes a request.


The request is granted, the boon is given, and the supplicant awakes; once awake the dreamer returns home and again offers sacrifice, this time in thanksgiving.


Typically, the event ends with some external sign that the deity's gift has been made.


The parallels between the incubation ritual and the Amerindian rite of passage to adulthood are obvious and very strong.


But what have we today to replace these dream rituals?


Is an annual visit to the school counselor effective?


Is a weekly 50-minute hour with the psychoanalyst sufficient?


But vision persists - even when we do not seek it.


From the Book of Job (33:14-16):


"For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instructions."


Even among the native peoples, after initiation, visions come and press upon both the individual and the people:


Black Elk's Great Vision:


Imagine, here is a nine year old, given, perhaps like Appelemando, to daydreaming. But now in illness, a great vision grips him.


A graphic, terrifying dream, full of the images of everyday life, but transformed into primal images, universal, prophetic symbols.


And throughout this long dream, again and again, over several days, a great voice speaks:


"...And as we went the Voice behind me said: 'Behold a good nation walking in a sacred manner in a good land!'

And the Voice said: 'Behold your nation, and remember what your Six Grandfathers gave you, for henceforth your people walk in difficulties.'"


This dream vision transformed Black Elk's life and made him into a great shaman and leader of his people - even while predicting, correctly, their decline and eventual ruin.

Prophetic dreams persist:


Consider now: Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at a great civil rights rally, the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963:


1st para: dream as literary, sermonistic feature, repetition of the phrase "I have a dream."


2nd para: but now numinous with color and vision - red hills of Georgia.


3rd para: rising intensity, "sweltering with the heat of oppression," to be calmed by rest in a world transformed into a cool "oasis of freedom and justice."


4th para: a dream for one's children, of one's children, seen before the throne of justice, to be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."


Perhaps an actual dream account? I think so.


A wish or a revelation? Both, perhaps.


Was the author King himself or a divine impulse; an expression of the interdependent web of existence, speaking through his mind and voice?


We cannot know but we still feel the impact of his vision.


Let me tell you about a much smaller vision, a dream of mine from 25 years ago:


The Mortadella Dream (see separate account)


What do I think about dreams?


They are:


* Vital - as necessary as breath and love


* Real - as much a part of Thomas Paine's "physical creation" as rocks, sky and water; as miraculous as Emerson's "falling rain and blowing clover."


* Full of Meaning - but "ipse res loquiter" - they speak for themselves and need no interpretation.


It is good to sleep, better to dream but best to dream and to remember.


Blessed be.


Congregational Response


Closing Words: From Langston Hughes: Reading #488:


"Hold fast to dreams

for if dreams die

life is a broken-winged bird

that cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams

for when dreams go

life is a barren field

frozen with snow."