The Christmas story is filled with tales of dreams that inspire and guide a host of people. Joseph dreams he meets an angel who tells him to wed Mary despite cultural pressures to divorce a pregnant, unmarried woman. After Jesus is born, Joseph dreams he must take his family to Egypt to avoid the coming blood bath created by a jealous King Herod.
Joseph paid attention to his dreams and received them as Divine Wisdom. He allowed God to speak to him through them and followed the paths to which they pointed.
Wouldn’t it be just like God to speak to us through our dreams? To bypass our busy minds during the day, and speak to us through images that appear while we lay in childlike sleep?
The wisdom-keepers teach that our dreams are one of the many ways God communicates with us. Our dreams are rich with Divine Inspiration and Holy Guidance. And through practice, we can learn to pan for their gold.
When we awake in the morning and remember a particular dream, the sages tell us to sit quietly for a while and ask the Creator if there’s something he’s trying to tell us. We’re invited to recollect the images that appeared in our dream, the emotions we experienced, the people we encountered. This pondering, this Divine Reading, invites God to unpack the dream with us as we savor and re-experience it.
Several nights ago, I dreamed I was at a cottage in the midst of a winter storm. I wanted to go down to the frozen lake and splash my face with water. A friend asked to go with me, so I invited her to join. I put on a pair of slippers and waded through snow drifts. When we got to the lake I stood on the frozen edge of the shore and bent down to splash myself with the water that flowed just beyond the edge of the ice. My friend then walked onto the frozen lake with me. The weight of our bodies soon caused the ice to crack and we fell backwards into the water. I calmly pulled myself and my friend up and we walked peacefully back to the cottage.
After awakening that morning, I held the dream in prayer. In my quiet time, I asked God if there was a message he was trying to convey to me. Nothing seemed to rise up, so I went on with my day.
Later that morning, I got into an argument with the friend who had accompanied me in the dream. She accused me of something I hadn’t done. I responded with a verbal tirade. As my anger got the best of me, I stormed out of the conversation and went to the gym to work out. While at the gym, the dream stirred up within me again, and the messages it contained revealed themselves as I stood in the shower after my workout.
The image of falling into the lake reminded me that I had fallen once again into an old behavior, that when I’m verbally attacked, my default is to rage back to defend and protect myself. The fact that I had calmly pulled myself and my friend out of the chilly water reminded me that over the years I’ve learned healthier ways to express my anger. And the image of putting on slippers in the midst of a snowstorm instead of boots suggested that God was inviting me to put on the soft shoes of compassion and understanding and go back to my friend to peacefully resolve the conflict.
So, after the gym, I revisited my friend. The image of the soft shoes inspired me to apologize for my overreaction. And with the apology behind us, we were able to talk and resolve our conflict.
Without the images from the dream and the wisdom it called me to, I’m not sure I would’ve walked through the argument as gracefully as we eventually did. But by pondering the images and letting them stir my heart and imagination, I believe God gently led me.
Like Joseph, many of our dreams are filled with Divine Wisdom. Our job is to become aware of them, to take time to ponder them, and to allow their images to guide us, direct our steps, and impact the choices we make. And as we open ourselves to discover the wisdom of our dreams, it’s often helpful to find a spiritual mentor or wise friend to help us unpack them.
With God’s grace and quiet attentive listening, our dreams can become a treasure trove of the Creator’s Divine Wisdom. Like Joseph, the invitation to us is to become awake, listen, and dream on!
—brian j plachta
Can you forgive yourself for being perfectly human?