Namque ignes inter, quorum in me lucet imago …
Dante, Paradiso 20.30
In the very first year of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud published an important treatise entitled in English, On the Interpretation of Dreams. In it, Freud seeks to explain how dreams work, attempting to use psychology and analysis of emotions and memories to expound upon something that in other cultures and other times had been and still was, at the time of his writing that treatise, sometimes explained in religious terms.
Now let me say straight off that I don’t think just any dream is a mandate from on high or any such thing. If someone suffering from diabetes dreams that he or she can live without insulin, that doesn’t mean that he or she should wake up in the morning and throw out that medicine. That is one kind of dream, and it may be a wishful hope or even something that should under no circumstances be acted upon. Not all dreams reflect a good outcome.
But is it possible that some dreams could suggest something? One has to be very careful here, I know, for the soil upon which we walk in interpreting dreams is prone to shift rapidly. Yet, even so, it could be, and has in the history of humanity been from time to time, the case that a dream can offer a premonition or even an admonition. Take, for example, the account of the three wise men in the Bible. They were ordered by Herod to report back to him about the Christ child but, “warned in a dream” (Matthew 2:12) they stealthily departed for their own country. In that same chapter, Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel to depart with Mary and the baby Jesus for Egypt. And there are many other examples. Daniel was given the ability to understand visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17), and the New Testament author, Luke, notes that such dreams are not to end in antiquity: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit” and “…your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
That said, I would like to share with you a dream I had the other evening and leave the interpretation to you. Maybe it was “nothing.” After all, as Freud once famously said about a cigar sometimes just being a cigar, so a dream may just be a dream. The context is this: I have been sharing with a close friend a bit about what a life with God can look like—the joy, the blessing, the sense of forgiveness and restoration, and even the unfathomable emotional closeness of thelove of Christ—but I did not share everything. I did not explain that when you go into a lion’s den—and metaphorically speaking you will from time to time, if you’re living the Christian life correctly—people will think you’re crazy, or when you say that everything good in you isn’t really from you but from God, they’ll think you’re nice but a bit crazy, or when you try to tell someone that God actually does answer prayer, you guessed it, they’ll think your nuts. Why? It has to do with going in a direction contrary to that of the world.
Whether or not my particular dream has any meaning, then–well, you can decide. I and the person about whom I spoke in the previous paragraph were in an airport. She was waiting in line to board a plane and everyone was in that line, all walking slowly in the direction of the plane. Suddenly and weirdly (of course weirdly, it’s a dream after all) I was standing next to her in line. Somehow, I knew that something bad, very bad, was about to happen. (I admit freely that, with all the airplane issues lately, maybe what I had read in the newspaper about Boeing 737 Max 8 planes informed this part of the dream.) I had been sent to warn her not to go with all the other people—not that the plane was going to crash, or anything like that, but rather not to do what everyone else told her to do. I was sent to call her back from the direction she was headed, the direction that all the world nowadays goes in. That’s the direction of self-fulfillment, self-realization, self-actualization, self-aggrandizement, self-self-self. It’s about me, my desires, my wants, my needs. All those people were heading in that directing, waiting in that line in what seemed to be an airport. And there I stood, warning her that this is really a bad line. I didn’t say a plane would crash or anything like that but I said, this is not the line you want to be in. She thought about it for a while, and then suddenly we fled, running the opposite direction, right along the side of the line of people.
Now here’s the weird part, and the part that surprised me when I woke up, because up to this point there’s nothing all that shocking in the dream. The people in the line started jeering at her. Many said despicable things about her—that she was stupid to give up her place in line, that she was an idiot. Some yelled out that she had done bad things, some yelled out that she would never get her place back in that line again. But, though she was by now in tears, she seemed to trust me about this not being the right line, it being a bad line indeed, and we ran outside into a field. When we looked back, it seemed that the building (for by now it was a building and not an airport any longer) was on fire. And now she was sitting in the field and a giant Lion came from nowhere—at this point I was out of the picture, but I could see her clearly—and that noble beast passed right in front of her as she sat there crying. She reached out both of her hands to the lion, who passed right in front of her, and touched him as he was passing. And when she touched him she was immediately transformed: she stopped crying and had peace.
I don’t know how much one can read into a dream like this. But I can say that the people in the line were not very nice to her when my friend decided to go in a totally different direction based on what seemed a chance encounter in the line. And the Lion? I don’t know, but He had a markedly noble quality, worthy of a character in a book of C.S. Lewis. Was it a good dream? Well, you can decide for yourself. I couldn’t have made up such a dream, for it happened, at least to the extent that dreams happen. But I can say that my favorite biblical character is someone named Joseph, whose life story has in many ways been replicated in my own many times over. So maybe, just maybe, this dream of going in a direction completely opposite to what is expected, what the world tells you is “healthy” (but really is not) will prove to be a good one in the end and for my friend, like the dream of Joseph, will turn out to be true. Time will tell. In the meantime, a mere caveat lector will suffice: be careful if you reach out to touch a Lion, for He might just leave you changed.