I seem to dream more these days than I have for years; Lord only knows why. I went for years without dreaming or remembering dreams. Maybe getting older has something to do with the resurgence of dreaming. Regardless, I find that dreaming can be enjoyable, fun, scary, informative, and/or reminiscent. Sometimes a dream seems to be a mere story I’m involved in, but other times the dream will make about what it might mean or is trying to teach me.
When I began studying the Education for Ministry (EfM) program in 2005, I was introduced to many different ways of deepening my spiritual life through various types of prayer, contemplation, meditation, and reflection. Over the years, I have found that writing has been one way I felt my spirituality growing and deepening. When I write about a dream I’ve had I gain new insights into beliefs, thoughts, and life itself.
One morning I awoke after a particularly vivid dream. I’m not sure how it started, but I remember being enslaved in China at some point in history. I was sent to a temple to work. I was given the job of moving a large porcelain turtle from a stand to a cart. I tried to lift and balance it, but the turtle slipped and shattered on the floor.
I was a slave with no rights, no ability to speak, and only harsh words and beatings to look forward to. I knew that breaking the turtle would earn many stripes from the canes and lashes, and that I might die as punishment for being careless, unlucky, or perhaps even overburdened. Yet, as terrified and also as sorry as I was at the time, I felt a need to be humble, to accept my fate, and to try to move without collapsing or staggering. I woke up at that point and spent most of the day trying to coax the ending out of my subconscious, to no avail.
Where did this scenario come from? What was it trying to tell me? I knew that as a slave, I had no choice as to what I could do, as overseers and others beat people such as me to the point of complete submission. However, the humility I felt was from something else, like I had heard someone speak of a sage who encouraged humility from everyone, regardless of status. It didn’t feel like I had heard of Confucius or any other holy person calling for such action. Still, as a slave, I would not have had the opportunity to hear much of anything other than curses and orders. Was my resignation to my punishment simple capitulation?
What I recall behind resignation and sense of hopelessness was a glimmer of something, a feeling that someone or something was behind me that was greater than I and that even if I were to suffer and die, it would matter to someone greater than those who might execute me. Of course, I had never heard of God, or Jesus for that matter. Still, as I thought about the dream, it seemed as though that moment in time is when I first became aware that even if I were utterly insignificant to the world, I mattered to God.
I know I was supposed to learn this lesson from my early days. After all, hadn’t one of the most sung Sunday School songs been “Jesus Loves Me”? Yet when I went upstairs to church services, I was continually reminded that I was a sinner, no matter how good I tried to be, and that God did not like sinners. Being a “sinner” was a lot for me as a small girl to take in. It took many years and experiences to get to the point where this dream could have any meaning for me, other than to put me in the place of a slave to learn how hard and dismal such a life could be.
Revisiting this dream has once again allowed me to mine it for other insights. Unfortunately, I cannot pretend to understand or empathize with those who actually have lived and suffered as slaves. Try as I will, and as much as I read about slavery and its ramifications, I can only imagine what it might be like, much less truly feel the pain and suffering. Perhaps that is something I am supposed to consider – what it means to people on both sides of the color line, and how it now needs to be revised to accept all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, and so many other characteristics, as equal, Children of God, and worthy of being accepted as such.
I’m impatient to see what the next dream brings me. I know that I still have much to learn in the time God gives me on this earth. Maybe I will finally have all the answers when the end comes, or perhaps it will just be another learning opportunity. The older I get, the more curious I get about that. Meanwhile, I will continue dreaming and contemplating.
Image: A Woman Sleeping, Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1655. The British Museum, London. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.