|Laurence Olivier - Hamlet|
It’s 3:53 am and all is well, except that I can’t sleep. I’m usually a sound sleeper, and tonight seemed no different – until 3:53 am when I woke up and was pretty much wide awake. Up to that point, I slept well, perhaps too well, as my body seems to have no interest in going back to sleep anytime soon. I have no idea why. I worked hard this weekend, so I should be tired. I do have a lot going on, but none of it is troublesome to the point of stress or worry. Unlike Hamlet, I don’t think I’m suffering from anxiety or a guilty conscience that would deprive me of the kind of sleep that leads, perchance, to dream.
As, you can see, after ten minutes or so of lying in bed with the sure (alas, futile) expectation that I would return to a deep slumber, my mind started racing. My first thought was that I hadn't blogged for a while and that a post in the morning about sleep and dreaming might be interesting (you can be the judge). I thought about whether what I ate last night might be keeping me up (I don’t think so) and how a lack of sleep would be particularly challenging on Monday morning as my employer frowns upon napping during work hours. But once I started composing this post in my head, along with a grocery list and new passwords for my internet accounts, it was over. My brain was off and running, and sleep was left in the dust at the starting gate. Dreams seem out of the question.
Dreams play a major role in the Judeo-Christian tradition. You’ll recall that Jacob was dreaming of a stairway to heaven long before Led Zeppelin, when God promised that Jacob’s descendants would “be like the dust . . . , spread to the west and the east.” (Genesis 28: 14) Jacob’s son Joseph (the one with the Technicolor Dream Coat) was a prolific dreamer who saw in a dream that his brothers one day would bow down before him. He also interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that predicted the great, seven-year famine, allowing the Egyptians to store up inventories of grain and leading the aforementioned brothers to bow down before him. (Genesis 37; 41) It was also in a dream that King Solomon received the offer from God that he could not refuse: “Whatever you ask, I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5) Solomon asked for wisdom. At this point, I think I would ask for more sleep.
Saint Joseph, in the New Testament, never speaks a single word, but he sure seems to be a sound sleeper. God told Joseph in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife for “it was through the Holy Spirit that the child was conceived.” (Matthew 1: 20) I’m not sure that I would have believed that one when I woke up in the morning, but thank God Saint Joseph did. After Jesus was born, God sent two more dreams to Joseph, one telling him to take his family to Egypt to protect the child from King Herod, and the other telling him that Herod had died so it was safe to return home to Nazareth. (Matthew 2: 13-15) Not everyone was as attentive to God’s message-laden dreams as Joseph was, though. You’ll recall that Pontius Pilate’s wife warned Pilate to “[h]ave nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matthew 27: 19)
It seems that God does some of his best communicating through dreams. Perhaps it’s the only time he can get us to pay attention. Now I don’t believe that every dream has some deep, subconscious meaning or that dreams necessarily predict future calamity or riches. But I do believe that our dreams reflect our hopes and fears and that God communicates with us all the time in whatever ways are best for each of us, including in our dreams. I know of too many people who have received great comfort in dreams of lost loved ones living happily in heaven to dismiss those dreams as mere coincidence or a trick of the mind. As for me, I've found on more than one occasion that when I’m stuck on a homily, the answer comes to me in a dream – so much so that I keep a pad next to my bed. I jot a quick note in the middle of the night and (usually) return to a restful sleep. Without fail, I’m pleasantly surprised in the morning to find a lucid note that resolves my writer’s block perfectly. In my view, that’s the Holy Spirit at work.