Towards the beginning of it all, I wrote on Facebook:
Since this all started (the pandemic and its strange and numbing effects), my mother has been showing up in my dreams. Not in any dramatic fashion, not with any message, simply there, simply present, as though even death knows no distance that cannot be overcome by ordinary love.
According to some researchers, the phenomenon of vivid dreams during our season of lockdown is real and reasonable. According to the Bible, dreams have also long been recognized as an avenue for our intuition of the state of the spiritual realm, as well as the physical. Although the book of Sirach warns,
… dreams give wings to fools.
As one who catches at a shadow and pursues the wind,
so is anyone who believes in dreams …
Unless they are sent by intervention from the Most High,
pay no attention to them. (Sirach 34:1b-2,6)
Then how is one to know that they are or are not heaven sent?
My mother has been dead for many years. I took her presence in my dreams to be a commentary on the death that stalks us through this new plague, and on the comfort of the promises of reconciliation, of the persistence of life and love beyond death’s borders, the rolling away of the stones it casts at us.
More recently, I dreamed about our uncertain but somewhat imminent reopening. In my dream, others had got ahead of the game. I found a group partying in the Undercroft against all government advice and our permissions. They were just delighted to be together. Having ousted them, I took myself off to the upstairs mini-kitchen for an encouraging cup of tea, only to find evidence that an anonymous support group had held its meeting secretly the night before, leaving their literature and coffee cups strewn about and me at a loss for how and whether to clean up after them.
It could be a plain old anxiety dream. There is plenty of that to go around: worries about losing control of our building and its disinfection, becoming a vector for disease; worries about conflict over when and how and to whom to reopen; worries about those who are shut out, for now, and for how long?
These are all valid reasons to worry, and I promise that I will continue to do so, night and day.
But there is a choice in the interpretation of dreams. They may be a simple by-product of the lockdown diet, high in snacks and low on self-control, or the existential anxiety of a world afraid of its own shadow’s cough, or a more personal grief. Or maybe these dreams come from some other realm that, isolated from many of the world’s distractions for a moment, our sleeping souls finally have the range to glimpse.
What if my dream did come, in any part, from the same source as the dreams of Joseph, Jacob, or even Pilate’s wife? Then it might speak of something beyond my mundane calculations and control issues. It might be a reminder that no matter how tightly we lock down our services, the sacraments, the social gatherings that once defined our spaces – and for good reason, and for a good span yet – nevertheless, the work of God continues to seep past our defences. The Spirit of God whispers in an aside that we cannot hear to those who need a word we do not have. The life of God is out of my control, out of my sanitized hands.
Like the earlier dreams of my mother, there is something both comforting and unsettling about such a conclusion.
Dreams have deceived many,
and those who put their hope in them have perished. (Sirach 34:7)
But the faithfulness of God is no fantasy.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio, and author ofA Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (April 2020, Upper Room Books). She blogs at over the water / rosalindhughes.com
Featured image: Jacob’s Dream, Jusepe De Ribera / Lo Spagnoletto via wikimedia commons