As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
I was standing with a crowd of people and two roads stretched out before us. The first road was broad and smooth. It was well-lit. The second road was narrow and rough and shrouded in darkness. The roads were not side-by-side. Rather, the broad way passed over the narrow way, and the narrow way passed below the broad way.
Those who entered the broad way quickly established property boundaries. The set up fences and built homes. They went into their homes and then never came out. The spent their days updating their Twitter feeds, friending or unfriending people on facebook, and ordering items from ebay. All the goods they ordered were delivered in giant crates that were heli-dropped into their yards. The same is true of the housing extensions they developed. The choppers would come and lower down another wing to their house, or another level for their highrise. Thump. A package would land, a person would scurry from his or her home — they all lived by themselves — gather the goods and run back inside.
The broad way was also a dead end. A giant wall was at the end of the street. Those who entered into it never left it.
I turned to examine the narrow way that ran below the broad way. Here I discovered something completely different. There were no fences, walls, or properties here. There was neither time nor space for such things because the people on the narrow way were holding up the way that passed above them. They would all take turns — those whose turn it was to hold things up, and those whose turn it was to rest and play, and those whose turn it was to care for, massage, and feed those who had just rotated off of holding things up. There were not a lot of goods here. The helicopters could only drop things on the top level and not much trickled down. People were poor and poorly dressed. There was a lot of suffering here… but there was also a lot of joy. Many of the people whom I have met in my journeys were down here acting as pillars of the earth above them. Some were single-handedly supporting large sections so that others could rest.
I also noticed that the narrow way did not end where the broad way ended above it. Rather, it continued on into a land that was flowing with milk and honey. Yet none of the people on the narrow way passed into that land. If they had done so, they would have made it more difficult for those who would have been left behind. If people had continued on, those left behind risked being slowly crushed to death. Plus, I observed, beyond a sense of duty or obligation, people remained because they loved the company of those who were with them.
However, the more goods that were ordered and delivered by the helicopters, the more housing extensions that were built, and the more things that were accumulated on the broad way, the heavier things became and the greater the burden became on the backs of those on the narrow way. More people got injured, less people were able to rest or play. More and more people were spending longer and longer amounts of time holding things up.
Then somebody new appeared upon the narrow way. This person single-handedly lifted the burden of the broad way from the shoulders of those who were on the narrow way. With the burden removed from their backs, all those on the narrow way began to pass out the far side, into the land flowing with milk and honey. Soon, only this one person was left in the narrow way. This person walked to the far side and, with a shrug of the shoulders, tossed up the burden that was being carried and entered into the new land on the heels of the others.
There was then a tremendous crash as the broad way came falling down. Everything was smashed in the fall. Houses collapsed and caught fire. Those who lived (alone) within them were caught in the rubble. They were wounded and the air was filled with their screams.
The one who had dropped them did not look back or heed their cries.
But then something incredible happened. Those from the narrow way, who were moving into the new land, did hear the cries of those in the rubble and they stopped what they were doing and, in one mass, came flocking back. They sifted through the rubble, they tended to the wounded, they wiped the tears of those who were weeping, and they helped all those who had been caught in the collapse into the new land with them. Not one person was left behind.
And then I awoke from my dream.
(And, so, you see, I opened with the first sentence from Pilgrim’s Progress because it seems that my dreams are as sublte as Bunyan’s… that is, they are not subtle at all.)
I have been using a rosary lately to help me pray more often and to focus my prayers on particular Scriptures, subjects and creeds. I have been thoroughly enjoying this and I could always write a post about how exactly I pray through the rosary, but I only mention it in this post because it plays a crucial role in a dream I had.
I was down in Washington for a course this past weekend, and while I was there I had this dream.
In the dream I was praying, holding the cross on my rosary. However, the edges of the cross were like broken glass, and, as I clenched it in my hand, it sliced my palm open and I started to bleed. Then, looking around me, I realised that I was in the ghetto close to my work and the ground was covered with people laying down, bleeding to death. I went up to the closest person, a man, and thought that maybe the blood that was coming out of my hand could go into his wound and restore him. So I put my hand over his wound and my blood started passing into him. However, as I looked at him I realised that his whole body was covered in wounds and he was losing far more blood out of his body, than he was gaining from my hand. So, I looked around for help and I saw people I knew, Church people/Christians, walking by. I called out to them, told them we needed more help otherwise everybody was going to bleed to death — and I held my rosary out to them. One by one they grabbed on to the cross and had their hands cut open. However, every one of them screamed or yelled when they were cut and ran away until I was the only one left. So, desperate to get more blood into the man I was standing by, I took the cross and lacerated my whole body with it and laid down on top of the man so that my wounds covered his. But even then he was still losing blood faster than he was gaining it. And so we laid there together and slowly bleed to death. As I was losing consciousness I heard a voice saying, “I am the resurrection and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
And then I woke up.
Last spring I wrote this dream down in one of my journals but since moving out here I think I lost that journal. Damn. I’ve been meaning to type it out so I guess sooner would be better than later. It’s funny because I had just wrapped up a series of reflections based on my work at the drop-in for street kids and the shelter for men in Toronto. I was in the middle of wrapping up my TA job developing a course called “Youth and Homelessness”. That Toronto chapter of my life was in the midst of ending when I had this dream.
I was riding the train to go and visit my brother who was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I took the Subway to Union Station and then hopped on the GO Train to Oakville. Somehow I ended up sitting next to a couple of younger girls who turned out to be street-involved. I chatted with them, especially one girl, who’s name, I found out, was Krista. She was 19 and had been street-involved since she was 12. It’s sort of embarrassing and I wouldn’t mention this if I didn’t think it was significant but, in the dream, there was a flirtatious element to our conversation.
Anyway, I got to my destination, spent the day visiting my brother and his wife and ended up back at Union Station waiting for the Subway home. Looking around the crowd on the platform I noticed Krista in the act of propositioning a young man. It turns out that the young man was a tourist and was traveling with his mother! The mother absolutely freaked out and started yelling at Krista, calling her a slut, a whore, basically every demeaning name she could think of came flying out of her mouth. Well, Krista is embarrassed and upset and starts yelling back at the mom, things like, “You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through! You can’t judge me!” The mom just keeps screaming though and I end up getting furious, because, fuck, she doesn’t know what Krista’s been through. I know enough to know that I can’t imagine what it would be like. I walk over and end up intervening, pulling Krista aside and riding the train back to Finch Station with her. On the way we end up talking about all sorts of things, God and suffering, life and love and our various experiences. When we arrive in the Station the whole place is empty, closed for the night, but it turns out Krista had swung a deal to make a little extra money cleaning the floors. I volunteer to help her and end up working down at the track level while she goes to work on the level of the buses. Time goes by, I finish my job and decide to go home. I head up the stairs and run into three construction workers heading down to the tracks. They look completely shocked, freeze-up and stare at me with open mouths. At first I thought they were just surprised to find me there but they just keep staring and I start wondering, “okay, what the hell is going on here?” Finally, one of them approaches me sort of timidly and half whispers, half stutters, “ummmm… y-y-your glowing.” For a minute I get a glimpse of myself from outside of myself and I realize there is a white light shining off of my face and letters of fire written above my head.
At that point I start waking up. I enter into that state where you’re partly awake but still in the middle of your dream. I start to wonder if there is something significant going on. My first reaction is to think that the light represents my Christian identity – called to be a light to the world. So I decide I’ve got to find Krista and share this light with her. But after searching through the station I’m unable to find her and decide that there’s a different interpretation.
That’s when I think of two things simultaneously. The first is Moses coming down from the mountain after meeting with God. After being in the presence of the Divine there is a light that shines from Moses’ face. The second is realizing that “Krista” doesn’t have to be spelled with a “K”. If spelled “Christa” it is actually a feminine form of the word “Christ”. Then everything falls into place. It is in our encounters with the oppressed that we meet with Christ, it is in the suffering that we discover the presence of the Divine, and it is by journeying in relationship with these people that we then become lights to the world. That also explains the whole flirtatious element that seemed so out of character – at the same time as this dream I was just beginning to pursue the idea of knowing God as Lover.
The funny thing is what tipped me off to this interpretation. There is an abandoned house in the neighborhood where I was living and I sometimes went there to journal or just think. It was good to get some time away from everything, I enjoyed the solitude that comes in the midst of the noises made by a house in the state of slow decay. The night before I had gone to that house and found a book on the kitchen counter (that actually wasn’t there the last time I visited). It’s funny because it was a book that I already owned – a series of reflections by the priest who started Covenant House called, “Sometimes God has a Kid’s Face”.
When I was young, around thirteen years old, I remember I started doing a lot of thinking about vocation and what to do with my life.
In the midst of all that I had a dream.
In the dream I was walking beside a river and Jesus was walking on the other side. I remember asking him, “What should I do with my life?” and he stopped and rested his hand on the tree beside him (funny how I remember his smallest movements yet can’t recall anything about the way he looked). A picture formed before me of a gathering of all sorts of wild animals all clustered together: giraffes, hippos, rhinos, lions, zebras. Then I woke up.
At the time I thought that was a “call” to go into missions in Africa. So I ended up attending a Bible college, and now, as I continue my education, I am doing a Master’s in Christian Studies.
The thing is my sense of vocation has shifted.
As I have journeyed with people who are suffering, as I have journeyed with the abandoned and oppressed, my passion for journeying with those who are suffering, for not only working front-line but for addressing systemic issues has increased. So then I started thinking maybe I was called to work with the poor in Africa. But the more I have become aware of the root of problems the more I have become convinced that the source of suffering in the third world is found in the first world. In fact, I have become increasingly convinced that things will start to radically change when comfortable middle-class Christians in North America begin to understand what it really means to follow Jesus. And so, without abandoning a journey of intimate love with those who are suffering, I am increasingly searching for a way in which to transform middle-class Christians.
But every now and again I would wonder about this dream and the call I thought I had. I wondered if I was drifting away from a road God had called me to travel. In the midst of this I read a book by a Christian philosopher attacking the idea of using the Bible as a defense for foundationalism. He argues that it may be possible that God sometimes tells us things that are less than true in order to point us in the right direction – much like parents over-simplify things to their children, in order to guard and guide them. I started wondering if my original interpretation of the dream was simply intended to get me to pursue the education I chose. Perhaps it had another meaning altogether.
And that’s when I remembered Peter’s dream in “Acts”. Peter, too, had a dream full of animals. The purpose of it was to reveal to Peter that the Gospel was not only for the Jews but also for all the people of the earth. A voice says to him, “What God has considered clean, let no man consider unclean.” I think that a parallel is there. Perhaps my dream wasn’t so much a call to missions as it was a call to journey with those that society and the church have considered unclean and cast out. It is a call to go to the rejected with the good news that, behold, God can make all things new.
In the crypt beneath Sacre Coeur there is a tiny chapel called, “The Chapel of Holy Piety”. Compared to the church above it’s exceedingly barren, a simple alter, one white marble sculpture of the Madonna holding the dead Christ, a few relics, two tombs with sculptures of archbishops, and, off to the side, a black onyx sculpture of Jesus. Jesus is laying on his back. He is dead, his body has yet to be cleaned, there is blood lingering around his wounds but his heart has stopped beating, his chest has stopped rising and falling, no breath escapes from his lips.
I was alone in that chapel for close to an hour. I spent a lot of time meditating on the sculpture. Sacre Coeur was a time of close communion, an intimate encounter with God.
I’ve never really told anybody but as I was praying and weeping and singing during my meditations one of the things I found myself praying for was that I, on my body, could bear the wounds of Christ. It was a strange prayer, I felt a little bit weird praying it, I’ve felt even more weird by the idea of telling anybody, but I prayed it nonetheless. There was something going on…
Anyway here I am six months later in Muskoka Ontario and I get into a conversation with a friend about what it means to journey with people who are suffering. What it means to take up a cross, what it means to grieve with those who grieve. As we are talking I also mention some of the dreams I’ve been having recently. She says she’s never had dreams like that. That night she dreamed this dream:
Her and I were walking into a party together. It was a mixed crowd, a large party, and there were people there we knew, and people we didn’t know. As we moved through the crowd I approached a girl sitting off to the side. Almost in slow-motion I reached out and touched this girl’s face.
“You have a cut here,” I said to her. Then I touched my own face. “I have the same cut on my face.”
Then in slow-motion I touched the girl’s back, touched a series of scars, of cuts, of marks all over her body and every mark she had on her body I had on mine.
The party progressed and I disappeared into the crowd. My friend found herself in a bedroom with the girl with the cut on her face. The girl was crying and asking my friend where she could find me.
“I don’t know, he comes and goes,” she said.
The girl was crying, and my friend was unsure what to say.
As she woke-up a voice in her head repeated, over and over again, “suffer with me. Suffer with me. Suffer with me.”
That was her dream. As I was thinking about it the other day I realized something. It is by entering into the suffering of the oppressed, the wounded, the abandoned that we begin to carry the wounds of Christ on our bodies. Just as Christ bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquity, so we now carry the wounds, griefs, sorrows, transgressions, and iniquities of those around us. This is how we fulfill our vocation as the suffering servant. Yet, our wounds, like Christ’s, are redemptive. We are chastened for their well-being and by our scourging they are healed.
Last night I dreamed this dream.
I was in a forest. Not an old growth forest but a new one, full of alders, the undergrowth was thick, the ground was treacherous. It was night and the foliage was so dense that no moonlight was able to makes it way through to the earth. I was struggling to find my way through the trees. Every now and again I caught the flicker of firelight in the distance. I knew that I had to make it to that fire. I knew that the person I was looking for was waiting for me there. So I rushed on, branches whipping across my face, brambles cutting my shins. Sometimes I fell down, sometimes I stepped into bogs of water, but always I picked myself up and carried on. Gradually the firelight became more visible until I finally broke free into the clearing.
Jesus was sitting by the fire. There was a meal he had cooked for me, and something warm to drink. He looked at me and smiled. It was gentle, and knowing, welcoming and sad all at the same time.
“Sit down,” he said. “Rest your head on my shoulder, talk with me, let my run my fingers through your hair.”
And I wanted to so badly. More than anything I wanted to… but I couldn’t.
Suddenly I was filled with rage.
“What are you doing here?” I cried. “What are you doing preparing a meal, resting yourself, sitting by a fire, when so many people out there are bleeding and suffering and dying? Why aren’t you out there? How can I sit down and rest when I know there are so many who are desperately lost around us? No, I can’t sit down. They need somebody, and I will go.”
And so with tears of anger, desperation and confusion streaming down my cheeks I raised my arm in front of my face and rushed back into the trees. I ran further and further from the fire, until I was once again surrounded by brambles and twisting vines. I plunged so deep into the darkness that no matter where I looked I could no longer see the light of Jesus’ fire. Only the darkness, everywhere the darkness.
Then I woke up.
I guess this all goes back to my question of exile – where is God in all of this? – and my question of vocation – how are we, as the people of God, to be used to bring light to the world? I think I’m still learning what it looks like to trust God with other peoples’ lives. I’m still trying to learn how to rest. And in the midst of all this I think there is a warning – beware of the road that leads away from the rest God offers. How easy it is to say we are serving God, sacrificing for God, taking up our cross, only to discover we have traveled a road that rejects God’s rest. How easy it is to say we long for God’s presence, only to discover we have been so focussed on his absence we can no longer recognize when he actually breaks in.
Last week I had a dream.
I was standing by a lake in an underground cavern. The water was fierce, the waves were foaming and crashing and a dragon emerged from the chaos. There was a sword in my hand and I knew that that dragon was trying to eat the person who was with me. And so I fought. I remember it well, the swirling darkness, the swirling water, flashes of teeth and scales and fire. I don’t know how long the battle lasted by eventually the monster retreated back into the depths of the lake. Well, the dream progressed and the cave was left behind up until the scene after the last scene (can a dream have an epilogue?). I was older, a lot older, and once again found myself by the underground lake. Only this time things were totally different. The air was still, and light had penetrated the darkness. The water was as smooth as glass and just as clear. I could see all the way to the bottom of the lake and there was no sign of any dragon. In fact there had never been a dragon at all. At that point I realized: all the things I had thought were my greatest victories were only figments of my imagination. For a moment there was a sense of sorrow (“Oh no, I’m not the hero I thought I was”) but that was quickly replaced by an overwhelming sense of calm. Although I had lost my hero status the monsters had not only lost their power but their very existence. This cave was not a battleground, it was a place of beauty, a place of peace.
And then I woke up.
Somewhere in there I think there is a lesson about what it means to be humbled by God. It’s a liberating humility, one that is accompanied by a sense of peace a feeling that, “yes, this is okay, this is how it should be” because it recognizes God’s sovereignty. It frees us from carrying the world on our shoulders and allows us to recognize that God is, after all, in the business of making all things new.